CBA Record March-April 2024


In-Person vs. Virtual Court Etiquette By Elaina M. Stevens

I t’s no secret that the pandemic has changed the workforce. In the legal field, lawyers went from being in a courthouse multiple times a week, to per haps not even having court appearances for quite some time, to then adapting to Zoom appearances. However, 2023 was a turning point for how in-person and vir tual court appearances may work in the future. Many lawyers went from attend ing fully remote court appearances to having to appear in person for a variety of matters. Consequently, many young lawyers who were admitted between 2020 and 2022 likely did not step foot in a courtroom until this past year. This also means that newly admitted lawyers are beginning their legal practice with a com bination of both in-person and virtual court experiences. Given the current landscape of court proceedings, here are some suggestions for newly admitted attorneys to keep in mind when navigating court appearances so they can appear with the utmost pro fessionalism, whether their appearances are in person or virtual. Prepare for the Court Appearance In-person and virtual court appearances are identical in one critical respect: they are both an official court appearance. This may seem obvious, but attorneys must appear in the same manner over Zoom as they would in person. This includes wearing a suit, looking professional, and being adequately prepared. Both forms of appearances require preparation; how ever, different factors must be considered depending on whether the proceeding is in person or remote. For both in-person and remote hear ings, if your appearance is between 8:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., it is a good idea to have everything ready to go the night before, including printing and reviewing any necessary documents. Further, it is important to understand the purpose of

the court appearance. Were you supposed to have independent expert depositions completed? Are you scheduling retained expert disclosures and related discovery? Do you need to discuss anything with opposing counsel prior to court? Under stand the goal of your appearance and what you need to accomplish before and in court to meet that goal. If needed, discuss with your firm’s lead attorney on the case their perspective on what should occur at the hearing, and ask any ques tions you may have. Be ready for possible curveballs and different issues that may arise and how you will address them. One key difference between in-person and virtual court appearances is that when you are in person, you do not have access to your computer or documents you did not physically bring with you to court. Accordingly, if you are relying on the idea that when on Zoom you can quickly pull up a necessary order, that reliance will not transfer to the courtroom. In other words, when appearing in person, it is essential to come to court prepared and equipped. This entails bringing in copies of recent orders, pleadings, motions, or other fil ings that the judge may expect you to supply for them, as well as having these documents for your own use to be ready to answer questions the judge may ask. Pay Careful Attention Regardless of whether you are on Zoom or in person, it is imperative to pay close attention to when your case is getting called. On Zoom, it is all too easy to be preoccupied with other tasks and dis tractions while waiting. You may even be tempted to work on other assign ments. Although this may seem produc tive, it can backfire and may distract you, resulting in missing your case when it is called. Therefore, it is better to focus on the court appearance and save other tasks for later. On the same note, whether on Zoom or in person, stay off your phone

when awaiting your case. This will prevent any accidental disruptions and keep you engaged for your appearance. Anticipate Issues that May Arise Another important consideration to keep in mind when appearing on Zoom is minimizing background noises and being aware of what may appear in your background. To avoid undesirable backgrounds, Zoom offers the ability to change or blur the background, which can be beneficial to those who do not have the chance to alter the room they are in. Take care to ensure that technological issues do not interfere with your appear ance. Although these are bound to happen even when taking caution, it is often a good idea to log onto Zoom a few min utes before your scheduled appearance. This gives you the chance to see how your background will appear, test your micro phone and camera, and ensure that you can successfully sign into the Zoom meet ing, allowing time to fix any issues. Likewise, it is just as necessary to show up at least a few minutes early to the court house when appearing in person. Whether you are driving or walking, it is helpful to give yourself a little time to get to where you need to be, go through security, find your courtroom, find your line number, and situate yourself. Not only does this give you an opportunity to anticipate any issues ahead of time, such as last-minute courtroom changes, it can also help put you at ease to avoid any rushing. As with many other things in life, being overprepared for court is far more preferable than being underprepared.

Elaina Stevens is an associate attorney at David A. Axelrod & Associates, P.C., practicing primarily in personal injury litigation.

30 March/April 2024

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