After nine months of video conferencing – and the introduction of virtual courtrooms – most of us believe we know how to handle a Zoom call. And while we can all agree that nothing is the same as a face-to-face conversation, video conferencing provides a close enough substitute that some of 2020’s virtual changes are here to stay.
That means both lawyers and clients will benefit from polishing virtual conferencing skills.
Look good on video
Some of what we’ve learned the hard way during 2020 video conferencing mishaps has to do with appearance.
Even before Time magazine famously altered their 1994 cover photo of OJ Simpson, the legal world was well aware that images can subconsciously alter our perception of someone.
Don’t have all the light in the background, so that your face appears shadowy by comparison. Do use a consistent light source, placed directly in front of you, such as a ring light. And aim to keep the camera angle more or less in front of you, where you can look into the camera – effectively making eye contact with the meeting’s other participants.
Because all conference participants are on the screen to some degree, even in speaker view, it’s always possible that another participant is observing your reaction. Monitor your facial expressions, keep hand gestures visible within the screen, and don’t try to do other tasks on your computer or phone during the meeting.
Attire and background
Dress for a professional meeting or court so that the other participants know you’re taking the proceedings seriously. And make sure your background is appropriate for a professional setting – no TV showing the latest Netflix drama or kids flinging cereal at each other in the kitchen. Walls and bookshelves make good backgrounds, but check the titles on your shelf before featuring them live.
Finally, if you live with other people, use a signal – such as a chair at the entrance to your work space or a sign on the door – to indicate when you’re in a live meeting.
It’s your job to set your clients up for success
If you’re familiar with how to manage your appearance on Zoom, that’s great! Now make sure your clients are too.
Just because you frequently use video conferencing in your work doesn’t mean everyone does. And even if a client does regularly use virtual conferencing tools, they can forget certain best practices if they’re nervous or excited or simply not using their “work” brain.
Have them show up to pre-hearing preparation as they would for court. This gives you both a chance to work through any kinks and set proper habits for when it matters.
Do your prep work
In addition to doing a dry run on the video conferencing platform, know what materials you’ll need to access during the meeting or court and how you’ll share them.
Most lawyers feel comfortable using the “share screen” feature at this point, but just as you would during an in-person meeting, have your documents ready to share. And if it’s easier for you to discuss the content with an annotated paper copy, know that too – and be sure to print one out in advance.
Have a backup plan
By now, we’ve all watched someone continue to speak as their audio cuts out or their screen freezes entirely. Be prepared to hold up a note to tell the speaker if there’s an issue. If they’re having connection issues, this may be more likely to get their attention than a message through chat.
Likewise, discuss plans for what you’ll do if the internet fails. Know how to use your phone’s hotspot or have a jetpack handy. Review these options with your clients, too.
As we move into a legal world still fully virtual – and seemingly poised to continue with a hybrid of virtual and in-person sessions, post-covid – it’s worth taking a minute to ensure your professional success isn’t hindered by avoidable mistakes.
Know how to manage your lighting, body language, attire, and background for video calls – and be sure your client understands these components too. Do a practice run, prep any documents you’ll need, and have a plan for when the internet fails.
With a little preparation, you and your clients can present professionally on video as you step into 2021.