Much like the pandemic itself wherein adaptability and preparedness beget success, those same qualities are necessary to find success in court as well. However, as many courts have fully shifted to holding virtual hearings, traditional advice on how to prepare yourself for a trial might not be applicable. While many of the usual steps are the same, there are a few notable differences you should be aware of. With that in mind, it is important now more than ever to understand how these virtual hearings usually take place and what is expected from you in order to best advocate for yourself.
Before the Trial/Hearing
Most notably, one of the biggest concerns when it comes to attending court virtually is appropriate technology usage. While it is not expected that you are a computer or phone wiz, it is very annoying to the Judge if they have to deal with people constantly dropping in and out of a Teams or Zoom meeting. One thing I do with my clients is hold a trial run with them before the hearing date so that we can ensure that they have a solid connection and suitable background.
While not held in a physical courtroom, the expectation that things will be appropriate still apply. Be sure that there is nothing provocative, distracting, or conspicuous behind you when attending court virtually. This means that it may be a good idea to move any sports memorabilia, religious objects, or family photos out of site. Along with this, close your drapes and your door to avoid any potential alternative parties listening or peaking in on this matter. The best practice I tell my clients is to ensure that their kids are somewhere else, and their pets are shut away so that no one cuts across the video screen or makes a disturbance during the call.
During the Trial/Hearing
As mentioned previously, it is important that you still remember that even though it is being held virtually, you are still attending court. This means that you should dress well and not wear anything you wouldn’t wear to a courtroom. Furthermore, the Judge only needs to see your face and shoulders, nothing else. So, make sure you have an appropriate setup in place beforehand. These meetings can take upwards of an hour and holding a phone or tablet might be uncomfortable to do for that long. The slight jiggling might get annoying at times, so make sure you have a stable surface for your device and charger on hand.
Also, you cannot use notes or a crib sheet. So be cognizant of whether or not you are looking at the camera. If you are observed frequently looking down, the court and counsel might get suspicious. If you do need a refresher on the topic, ask if you can review a document to refresh your memory. This means that you should have clear and readable copies of all exhibits, and that you should keep them in a chronological order.
A small pro-tip I would offer anyone attending virtual court would be to wait a few beats before responding to any questions. Oftentimes there may be some lag on the call, and you may want to give your attorney the time to object. This also prevents parties from talking over one another, making the call a much less chaotic experience.
Along with that tip, you should work out a system to privately contact your attorney during the hearing or trial. This will allow you to state something without alerting everyone on the video feed. This can range from things about the case to needing to excuse yourself to use the restroom. Along with discreet messaging, remember that microphones tend to pick up every bit of noise, so be sure not to mumble anything under your breath you wouldn’t say out loud.
When it comes to having others in the room, courts generally prefer that involved parties and their attorneys not be in the same location when joining the call. Also, witnesses are not allowed to be in the same room as you. As with in-person trials and hearings, witnesses cannot hear the prior testimony of other witnesses if they have not testified yet. It is tempting to have your witnesses around you, and sometimes easier if you have a good video feed and they do not, but it is just not allowed.
By Failing to Prepare, You Prepare to Fail
I have seen many people fail to treat virtual court like an in-person court and suffer for it greatly. With that being said, I look to inform my clients about the intricacies of virtual court so that they can best prepare themselves to succeed in the virtual courtroom. While there are many more tips out there, by following the strategies I have listed above, you can ensure that you have a better shot at getting the results you want in court.
As a Senior Associate at Tully Rinckey, PLLC, Christine is part of the Family and Matrimonial Law group, where she focuses on divorce and child custody cases. She brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in family and matrimonial matters, working as both a private practitioner and public defender. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (585) 492-4700.