WHEN LEGAL PROCEEDINGS MOVE ONLINE: Does Etiquette Still Matter?
Updated: May 13
The legal profession has always been rooted in tradition, but because of the current state of social distancing, online video communication is upending old norms. This in turn, is propelling the implementation of new norms, and new etiquette for online video communications.
In the legal profession decorum matters. Judges dress in black robes, while lawyers, plaintiffs, defendants, and court visitors are encouraged to dress conservatively and modestly. But, does that decorum become more lax when court hearings are moved online?
For people who are working remotely, videoconferencing has introduced a new range of etiquette questions and in this post we aim to answer the most common ones.
Let’s take a look at the most common etiquette questions and their answers:
1. Dress code: Does it matter? Should modesty still apply?
“Absolutely,” according to one judge in Broward County, Fla. Judge Dennis Bailey. He claims that some lawyers were getting a little too lax stating, “One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers,” he wrote. “And putting on a beach cover-up won’t cover up you poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don’t mind, let’s treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not.”
Parties are going to be judged based on their appearance, and while many are self-representing, they should follow dress code rules because it is expected. We get only one chance to make a first impression, and our dress should not to be the main factor in making a negative one.
2. Speaking tone: A second question that gets brought up often. Is there a proper way to communicate online?
It has been noted often, that video platforms like Zoom can make it easier for parties to talk over each other, and over the judge, mediator, arbitrator. Lawyers are frequently looking down at files, or other documents, and cannot see another party yelling ‘Stop!’ because an objection has been made, and the audio stays with the person speaking the loudest rather than the one in charge.
A frequently used solution for this is simply, knowing when to mute the microphone. It is suggested that after speaking, the speaker mutes his/her microphone to allow other parties to have their word. If everyone implements this practice, there should be no problem communicating or speaking over one another.
3. Call background: virtual backgrounds can also provide a sense of comfort or normalcy to the audience
By now, most of us have seen lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, in bed, or even the bathroom. Finding a nice and quiet place in the house or office eliminates distractions and makes the other people feel like they’re getting your full attention.
Virtual backgrounds are advantageous because they allow the caller to hide anything unsightly in the background. This may include their bedroom, home, pets, etc. Virtual backgrounds can also provide a sense of comfort or normalcy to parties, especially in trial like scenarios.
No matter what the future holds, it seems that professional etiquette will always prevail. During the era of working from home and using video communication, one must always look professional. As we previously stated, you only have one chance to make a first impression, and as much as we should like to take our calls from bed in pajamas, we shouldn’t.