Zoom hearings are a new phenomenon, thanks to COVID-19. Prior to March 2020, Zoom had only very rarely been used in a legal capacity. Though telephonic hearings had been used in certain settings, video hearings had been relatively nonexistent.
Enter the coronavirus and all that has now changed, as much of the world has adopted Zoom as an essential way of conducting business during a pandemic.
How to Prepare for a Zoom Hearing
When getting ready for your Zoom hearing, realize that you will be creating a certain impression for the judge right from the start. Think through all the details in advance so that you can start your hearing with a strong, impressive presence.
Begin by testing your technology ahead of time. Make sure your microphone is on and you can access the platform and your particular meeting. When I’m working with clients, I always call them a half-hour before their hearing starts to be sure they have no technical glitches.
Make sure your name is written appropriately in the Zoom box. You don’t want a nickname, your child’s name or an inappropriate name to appear under your face. Also, be sure to turn off any filters. While the video of the attorney who couldn’t figure out how to turn off his kitty filter went viral recently and provided a good laugh to a country desperately in need of humor, that kind of incident generally won’t be considered humorous by your judge.
It’s very important to turn on your device’s camera before the hearing, even if it makes you feel exposed and vulnerable, and even if the other party doesn’t have their camera on. Being able to see and interact with you visually will create a distinct impression with the judge.
What to Expect During a Zoom Hearing
The most important rule to remember is that a Zoom hearing is still considered to be court, so you must conduct yourself just like you would in Court. It should go without saying that there should be no eating or drinking during the hearing (not even water), and no spectators. Children should not be within eyeshot or earshot.
Dress appropriately, as if you were going to church or to court. Even if you disagree with the other party or the opposing attorney, there should be no eye-rolling or interrupting. Make sure you’re muted if you’re not speaking.
Arrange a method to communicate with your attorney during the hearing if necessary, such as by text or email – NOT by waving onscreen to get his or her attention. That way, if you have any questions or concerns during the proceeding, they can be addressed in a timely manner.
At the commencement of the Zoom hearing, be prepared to be sworn in just as you would be in Court. Identify yourself with both your first and last name. You will be asked to raise your right hand and take an oath to tell the truth. After taking your oath, mute your microphone.
Once the hearing is done, exit the Zoom meeting right away. Nothing good will come of sticking around and talking with another party. Your attorney will call you after the hearing closes to review what happened and to discuss the next steps.
The Advantages of a Zoom Hearing
While conducting legal hearings via Zoom can take some getting used to, it can be quite efficient. Prior to COVID-19, Probate Court hearings were typically assigned a certain day at court, but the parties often wouldn’t know the actual time of their hearing until arriving at the courthouse that day. When using Zoom, you know the specific time in advance and the wait for your case to be called is typically shorter. You also don’t have to take a full day off work. If you’re working remotely, you can just log on to your Zoom meeting at the time of your hearing and then continue on with the rest of your workday after it’s done.
Zoom hearings also afford more privacy. In most cases, the parties are the only people present during the hearing.
If one person doesn’t have an attorney, it can be detrimental and really slow the case down during a Zoom hearing, so it is wise for both parties to hire attorneys.
Embrace the advantages of the new technology and methods being used during the pandemic – but don’t forget that Zoom hearings still constitute “going to court.” Be prepared and