- Posted by Monica Smith
- On September 7, 2021
- communications, video
Just when you thought it was safe to dismantle your home video studio, the Delta variant is forcing some judges to reopen the Zoom courtroom.
According to a recent Law.com story, remote depositions, hearings and other legal meetings are up again. But attorneys who once feared or scoffed at video engagements now see the upsides.
The American Bankruptcy Institute reports, “Many courts have actually become more efficient by eliminating scheduling complications such as travel from the equation – so much so that many predict that some form of remote hearings will remain in place (or at least as an option), even after the hoped-for day when the current pandemic is just a memory.”
Don’t fret if you’re still struggling to master the art of virtual communications. More than half of the attorneys we have surveyed and interviewed over the past year would prefer an in-person hearing. But because virtual proceedings are a reality again, here are three easy things you can do to be more successful in them.
Get good lighting. In the beginning of the pandemic, lawyers were hesitant to purchase a ring light, which were reserved for celebrities and social media influencers. But the right lighting makes you look friendly and enhances what you have to say, while unflattering fluorescent lighting makes you appear sinister, hindering your message.
Use natural lighting to your advantage and test your setup at various points in the day so you can make adjustments. One law firm that we are working with on virtual communications skills encourages its attorneys to forgo the standard overhead fluorescent lighting in its offices in favor of more camera-friendly dual photography lighting.
Place your camera carefully. Think about how judges and others will perceive you on their screens. Many attorneys that we coach have their camera affixed to a monitor right in front of them, but then they often turn to the side to read from another monitor. Build your office setup with virtual proceedings in mind. While it is OK to look down or to the side from time-to-time in a virtual presentation, you want to be mindful of keeping good eye contact with your audience.
Camera angles matter, too. Many attorneys place their cameras below their face, ultimately looking down at the judges, counsel and witnesses. Not only is this physically unflattering for many of us, but it is also very distracting – and in some cases, feels disrespectful to the audience.
Keep in mind eye contact occurs when you look straight into the camera, not necessarily when you look at others in the Zoom room. Tape a sticky note or another other visible cue right next to your camera lens so that you focus on your audience.
Wear appropriate clothes. We field many questions from lawyers about their attire. Many are working from home, where the formality of a suit seems too stiff. But you’re ultimately appearing before a judge, your peers and perhaps most importantly, your clients. You must look the part of a seasoned and competent legal advocate.
In meetings, gentlemen can strike a balance by losing the tie or jacket but probably not both. If you’re appearing before a judge, we recommend both. Ladies can much more easily get away with a colorful blouse or sweater.
And – as silly as it seems to write this – wear pants, not shorts and not yoga pants. If you get up to close a door or retrieve a file, we will see you from head-to-toe.
Ultimately, don’t forget that others involved in your case – clients and expert witnesses alike – must be coached on the same virtual communication best practices. It is your responsibility as counsel to take the lead in giving them instructions, ensuring that they have the right equipment, and, most importantly, that they are practiced and prepared. Their credibility and integrity rely on you for this. Your role as legal counsel is always to prepare them for whatever comes their way, and for the foreseeable future, virtual presentation is it.
Interested in learning more and improving your own virtual communications skills? Ask about our one-hour CLE program, Mastering Your On-Camera Presence for Professional Development.