The recent extensive need for virtual mediation, depositions, and court appearances forced the entire legal industry to evaluate how to best replicate legal processes in a virtual environment.
There has been a learning curve for everyone. While courts have dabbled in remote procedures for several decades, best practices aren’t well established. Despite the difficulties, though, there are several things that attorneys, mediators, and their clients can do to make things go more smoothly.
Appearance makes a difference
Even with working from home, a lot of us are in lounge mode these days: sweatpants 24/7, working from the couch, with our whole home life going on around us. Totally understandable!
But when you’re getting ready to show up onscreen, it’s time to put your best professional foot forward.
That means the following:
- Wear what you would normally wear for court
- Choose your background with care. Keep it neutral as much as possible.
- Do your best to ensure a quiet, distraction-free environment
- Make sure you have adequate lighting – avoid backlighting so you’re visible
- Make sure your phone or computer has good speakers and microphone so others can hear you
We know it can be hard to hit these marks sometimes but remember: you’re still participating in legal representation. Taking the time to be set up will make the right impression.
Always be prepared
Whether you’re zooming in for mediation or making a court appearance, make sure you’ve practiced the technology in advance. Doing a test run is never a bad idea.
It’s also a good practice to double-check your WiFi. Consider connecting to the internet via an ethernet cable instead, or at least have a remote hotspot as a backup. Encourage your clients to similarly prepare. Reducing frustration on their end will help things go more smoothly.
Getting ready for mediation
Remote processes go more smoothly when everyone is prepared. For remote mediation, make sure that all parties have the necessary email addresses and documents beforehand. While video conferencing platforms have internal document sharing and messaging capabilities, it’s better to do this via external email.
Exhibits for depositions
Exhibits are crucial parts of any deposition. While you can upload them through the remote deposition platform, it’s good practice to send sealed hard copies to the witness and opposing counsel with the instructions that they should not be opened until they are onscreen.
Of course, you can always add documents via the deposition platform later, but the advance hard copies reduce the likelihood of technology failure getting in the way of the deposition.
Speaking of client communications, no matter how adept at technology your client claims to be, make sure they are clear on the process. Thorough communication reduces the stress of virtual lawyering. Several key points to emphasize about these virtual activities:
- Standard etiquette applies to interactions – everyone should strive to be respectful
- Participants can hear others if they’re not muted
One of the biggest losses in remote legal activities is the loss of nonverbal cues that inform conversations between all parties. When you’re relying entirely on tone and word choice, effective communication is more work. You can’t avoid the work, but being aware of the need for it helps you prepare.
But what about confidentiality? There is a limited ability to control who “appears” or “hears” in remote hearings or depositions. For cases that involve sensitive or confidential information, this is a concern, and courts and attorneys should be diligent in complying with confidentiality obligations.
Be an active participant
All parties should be focused on the mediation, deposition, or court appearance. While it’s tempting to multitask with email, text messages, and other activities, they should be kept to a bare minimum.
It helps to remember that you’re entirely visible to the other participants. Yes, logically, we know this, but it’s easy to forget at the moment. Practice active listening skills – they apply just as much in remote situations as they do in person. To simulate eye contact, look into the camera and be mindful of your body language.
The entire legal industry is still getting used to these remote legal practices. The necessary technologies can be difficult to use. Not everyone will use them correctly. We’re all still getting used to the etiquette of life online, but taking these steps will help you make an impact virtually.