During the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, videoconferencing is the new normal & Indian courts are adopting videoconferencing as a critical measure to continue the judiciary to work & to ensure the implementation of social distancing as a mandatory safety measure for all.
Now, most of the courts don’t have in-person appearances and have started using videoconferencing tools to facilitate and streamline the administration of justice.
We have seen a sudden rise in court proceedings via videoconference but lawyers are still to catch up with the new technology and their new normal of pleading in the court. Lawyers are trying to navigate the not so easy screen of video conference software & the attached new etiquette of it. Unfortunately in a country like India where technology penetration among Lawyers is low and not all practicing lawyers have become accustomed yet with the digital techniques of practice. Recently an honourable Judge made an observation and requested that lawyers appearing before him through videoconference should at least wear shirts and dress in a manner that is appropriate to the courtroom.
So the key question is WHAT IS THE RIGHT ETIQUETTE FOR COURT APPEARANCES via VIDEOCONFERENCE? What steps can – and should – you as a Lawyer take to ensure that your videoconferences are professional and suitable for the hearing?
Court appearances using videoconference are very new methods and there are no well-established rules or accepted practices available as of now. Having said that, I feel common sense along with practical knowledge can be used to make sure that you put your best foot forward when pleading for your clients via videoconference. I have collated a few practical tips for you so that you can follow these tips and stay ahead in the practice of the online representation in courts.
1. Your Professional Attire
It’s very practical & common sense that you should dress appropriately for the online hearing, at least on the top half of your body, since that’s all that will be visible on the screen. Put on a white shirt and/or a black coat, this is applicable to both the genders. This can make a huge difference. Comb your hair and make yourself presentable. We all are homebound during lockdown, but if you’re appearing in an online video court proceeding, dressing is the key. By doing that, your looks will not distract from the point you’re trying to make. And if your client is also asked to appear in the hearing, make sure to remind your client about the importance of dressing correctly.
2. Mention your ROLE in your login name
This is very important because Judge is also looking at your name to talk to you hence if your ROLE is also mentioned there, it will help him/her identify you correctly. For example Mahesh Moorthy, Lawyer for the defendant. If your client is also attending via videoconferencing, the client should also use the same nomenclature i.e. Ajay Mishra, Defendant. By doing this, it becomes immediately clear to everyone attending the hearing who you are and what is your role, thus providing more clarity and ensuring that the proceeding runs smoothly.
3. Login Early
Like in the real court, we all are present before the Hon’ble judge’s entry in the courtroom, similarly, it is a good idea for both you and your client to log in for the hearing a few minutes early. By doing that if you find any technical issues while logging in, you will have time to correct it.
4. Watch your body language
As a lawyer, you know that court craft is all about your body language and it is equally important for your clients too even during a videoconference. For new users (in Indian scenario almost all are new) it may be difficult to get used to it i.e. looking directly at the camera when you speak. Also, during the videoconference, don’t do any kind of multitasking. You should keep your hands away from your face and keep your face as neutral as possible. Your facial expressions are more easily identifiable during videoconferences and you don’t want any expression to be misinterpreted by the judge! Make sure that you share these tips with your clients who also might be appearing in the hearings.
5. Your Background in the Video
Yes! that is the most ignored aspect in a Video Conference and that is the most disturbance causing reason too. Always check your background before logging into the videoconferencing session. If you are sitting in your room then be aware of what’s behind you and how it will appear to the Judges during the hearing. Make sure there are no distractions like reflections of lights or the sunlight coming directly on the background behind you. If there is no option and you are in a room which is not professional; like a bedroom or kitchen, then you can use a background image in the videoconferencing software usually now available in all of them and if you are using a background make sure to choose a professional-looking background for example a bookshelf etc.
6. Do the technical checks of your camera & microphone before the call
Technically check your computer system before you go live on videoconferencing. It is a good idea to conduct a practice session before you appear for your live hearing and more importantly advice your client also to check his computer system thoroughly. If you have never used the videoconferencing software preferred by the court, make sure it’s compatible with your laptop/mobile or desktop and download the software before the scheduled conference. Advice your client to do the same. Better safe than regret!
7. Use a good quality headset
As a technology company we advise avoiding usage of your computer’s audio. You should use a good quality headset and if it’s Bluetooth make sure that you have paired it with your device much in advance to the video hearing. We also suggest keeping a wire ready in case Bluetooth fails for any reason like not charged enough, pairing issues etc. A headset, allows you to maintain client confidentiality and have better sound quality all around. It is a very important etiquette to mute yourself whenever you’re not speaking i.e. keep your microphone off to avoid any unwanted sound/noise which can create a distraction. This advice applies equally to your clients attending the videoconference hearing.
8. Discuss with your client ahead of time
If your client will be participating in the virtual court hearing, make sure that your client understands how the videoconference hearing works and that all participants can hear what’s being said if you’re not muted. Explain the importance of confidentiality and how it is critical to avoid sharing confidential information or to have confidential discussions during the appearance.
Those are my top videoconferencing etiquette tips for Lawyers. Did I miss anything? If so, let me know in the comments.
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