Courtrooms across the country largely remain closed to help mitigate the spread of Covid-19. For the most part, court appearances are held virtually on Zoom or another similar platform. Recently, a Texas lawyer made headlines when he accidentally appeared “in court” as a cat. While the story is entertaining it also serves as a good reminder that your appearance and demeanor are no less important when appearing in court via remote video. It is also a good springboard for discussing how you should prepare yourself for a virtual court appearance in order to present yourself in the most favorable light.
1. Check Your Technology. Prior to your virtual court appearance, make sure your camera and microphone are working properly. Check your email to confirm that you have a link to your court appearance. Close any programs or apps that you are not using because this can slow down your internet connection. If your connection seems sluggish, try restarting your computer, phone or tablet. Gently clean your camera so that the picture is as clear as possible. Of course, turn off any and all filters.
2. Eliminate Distractions. When you appear before a judge, you want the focus to be on you and your case, not any unnecessary distractions. Set up your computer or other device in a quiet corner of your home or office. Find a space that is private so the court isn’t hearing barking dogs, crying kids, or any other distracting noises. Find a clean and uncluttered background so the focus remains on you and not what is happening on the wall or bookcase behind you. When appearing by video, the court and opposing counsel get a glimpse into your private space and that can cut against you. An open bottle of beer, a pile of unfolded laundry, or even a movie poster, while seemingly benign, could suggest something unfavorable about you in the eyes of the court. This is especially true in a family law case where issues of parental fitness and custody arrangements may be at issue.
3. Consider the Lightening. Poorly lit video feeds can be distracting and undermine your credibility. It’s hard to judge someone’s veracity and character if they have deep shadows on their face. The good news is you don’t have to be a master at cinematography to find pleasing light for your virtual court appearance. Most of the time positioning yourself in front of a window or doorway will create soft natural light that will fill in any shadows. Photographers refer to light coming head-on as beauty light. If you can position yourself directly in front of soft window light, the picture will be much more pleasing and less distracting to those watching you. Do avoid having a window or door to your back. Your camera will expose for the brightest light source, here the window, rather than your face which will necessarily be underexposed. A quick search on YouTube will yield several brief tutorials demonstrating a simple lighting set up.
4. Prop Your Camera. Stabilize your camera by propping it up on something. Holding your phone in your hand an arm’s length should be avoided. The picture moves and bounces taking the focus off of your important message. Spend a few extra minutes finding something in your home to prop up your camera. If you expect to be making frequent virtual court appearances, which may be the case in a contested divorce, Amazon sells affordable portable stands for exactly this purpose.
5. Dress for Court. Judges hold considerable power over your future. Dressing well sends the subtle message that you respect the court’s authority and time. Whenever possible ensure, your appearance is appropriate for the situation. Generally, sneakers, hoodies, athletic wear and graphic tees send the wrong message. Stick with business casual attire and you usually will make the right impression.
6. Look and the Camera. When talking to someone in person, making eye contact is the best way to make a positive connection and leave a favorable impression. When appearing by video, it’s tempting to look directly at the screen so that you can see the judge, attorneys and opposing party. The better approach is to look directly at the camera. In this way, you are making direct eye contact and not needlessly diluting your credibility. It may seem a little unnatural at first, but with a little practice it will become automatic.
At Goodman Law Firm our goal is to help our clients present their case in the most favorable terms possible. The details matter. If you are contemplating a divorce or in the middle of the divorce process, our talented team of legal professionals may be able to help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.
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