5 Tricks for Zoom Court Hearings or Telephonic 341a
An attorney’s list of dos and don’ts for Zoom court hearings during the coronavirus COVID-19 lockdown
Zoom court hearings and telephonic appearances for 341a meetings are becoming more common in 2020. These are all new. Covid-19 coronavirus has changed how we practice law. Here are 5 tips and tricks to nail those Zoom court hearings or telephonic court or 341a appearances.
5. Dress like you’re in court
Yes, it’s remote, and you’re probably at home with your comfort weasel Snuggles next to you with a cup of your favorite warm beverage. (that is, it’s your warm beverage, not that of Snuggles). Still, take the process seriously, and you signal that by how you dress.
Dress to impress. Our profession deserves it. It shows respect to the process, the law, the other parties, yourself. You might think “dress to impress” only matters if it’s a Zoom court hearing.
Not just for Zoom court hearings, but for Zoom 341a, wear a dress shirt. You’re an attorney in a dignified court proceeding, not handing out Dole Whips on Oahu.
But even if it’s a telephonic court appearance (or 341a), put on a tie and dress up. Why? First of all, it makes you prepare as opposed to literally rolling out of bed (or staying in bed).
And also, it sends yourself a subconscious message that this is serious. If you dress up for it, your mind will get the hint that you’re on. Be the one that takes it more seriously. And don’t be that guy who gets yelled at by the judge for thinking this is all a joke.
4. Get on a landline for telephonic court hearings
In the 2020s, we love our cell phones. We take them everywhere. But cellphone reception and call quality can be… inconsistent, at best. When you dial in for the telephonic court appearance or Zoom court hearings, do it from a landline.
You remember what a landline is? It’s a phone that has a wire or cord attached to it that connects to a wall. Yes, a corded phone, like you’re a prehistoric caveman from 1986.
Do you even still have a landline? Find one, or buy one for this pandemic. Your judge or trustee will love you for it, instead of making a mental note of the person she could never hear.
Or worse, the one they did hear, but completely misunderstood. Don’t be the lawyer who the judge thought they heard say, “I assure you my client is staticnotstatic guilty.”
3. No hold music or distractions
There are few things more annoying in the telephonic court appearance world than the person who puts the entire virtual courtroom on hold.
Sure, it’s convenient for you. But you just subjected the judge or trustee and 30 other attorneys to your Muzak version of the Pina Colada song playing on loop for 10 minutes of ear-piercing torture.
Close your windows so the fire engine sirens are just a tad quieter, even if you start feeling warm and really would’ve preferred the breeze.
Speaking of distractions, to the extent you can, put Yappy the wonderdog in the garage. Yes, he may be a great comfort to you while you’re battling opposing counsel in telephonic court thunderdome. But it’ll distract others when Yappy starts barking loudly and singing the song of his people.
2. Some background on Zoom court hearings
You’re being judged by what others see on your Zoom court hearings. I had a Zoom appearance yesterday, and one thing I noticed about my own client is her background. That is, what others saw behind her on the video conference.
Now, in her case, it was pretty much a blank white wall and maybe some furniture. But it could’ve been a disaster.
For example, in bankruptcy, it sends the wrong message if the Chapter 7 trustee starts Zoom court hearings or meeting of creditors, flips on video and sees the impoverished debtor sitting in front of a 80-inch TV screen next to stereo and sound components and a $10,000 fish tank.
Same for you, lawyers. What message are you sending the judge and court on your Zoom court hearings if they click on and see all your dirty laundry (literally!), and strewn all over your floor discarded packages of beef jerky.
Now, maybe beef jerky is awesome, but you probably want the court and opposing counsel to focus on your dazzling argument, not your empty Fiddle Faddle wrappers.
Even the stock Zoom backgrounds where you look like you’re a grasshopper in 10-foot grass blades would be better than the judge or trustee seeing your piles of Hoarders’ Monthly magazines.
Bonus tip: get a Zoom virtual background. This makes it look as though you’re somewhere else, and covers up your background.
Download a office background or bookshelf or even courtroom background image. In Zoom, click the up-arrow next to Zoom’s Stop Video and Choose Virtual Background and then select the image you just downloaded. Voila! You’re now seated in an oak-paneled conference room, and not a stripmall laundromat.
Yes, it may appear as though part of you is disappearing, or floating, unless you get an actual green screen for your Zoom background. This makes the Zoom virtual background look much more natural for your Zoom court hearings.
Speaking of backgrounds, there are times where we use Zoom to share desktops to show someone a document or Powerpoint slide. If you’re going to do that (or even if you don’t think it’ll come up), first, close all your open windows (besides Zoom).
Otherwise, the moment you hit “Share” all the other attorneys can see all your embarrassing browser tabs, in all their glory. Don’t let this happen to you. Either close everything or, better yet, have Zoom on its own desktop.
Oh, and while we’re on the topic of Zoom: coach your clients to smile. They’re “on” all the time with their face taking up a full box, and making a sympathetic impression to the judge or trustee is a lot easier when they are presenting a smile instead of a nervous resting scowl.
1. It’s a mute point
Mute your phone. For the love of all things sacred and holy, keep your mute on during the Zoom court hearing or telephonic appearance. All the times, all ways, and always.
The only time you’re not on mute is when during Zoom court hearings or telephonic court appearance your case is called. Then you unmute. But all other times — and I cannot emphasize this enough — mute your audio!
Mute your phone. Yes, muting yourself opens the door for the chance your matter is called and you rush to unmute and in a fit of panic or lack of caffeine, you hit the disconnect button instead.
But that’s ok. Get back on CourtCall and get back on. The judge will have a good laugh, you just became more human, and maybe even will garner some sympathy (or pity).
Put your phone on mute.
It’s true that many landlines don’t have a mute button, the way cell phones do. But invest in a Plantronics wired headset (Bluetooth is convenient but you’ve now added a dropout or static variable).
Wired headsets for a landline have a connect/disconnect button and a mute/unmute button. It’s a once-in-a-century coronavirus pandemic. Invest in a new tool for the times, even if those tools are cutting-edge 1990. Mute.
By following these pointers, we can adapt to our changing environment in a manner that shows respect to the process and our profession, while helping it be administered with minimal distractions and interruptions.
Our Zoom court hearings will go more smoothly and faster. Our telephonic 341a hearings will get us off the phone faster. Maybe if we make it easy, they’ll keep them in place when the lockdown orders are lifted.
Thanks for reading. And mute your phone!
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