10 Things to Remember in the Zoom Court Era

November 1, 2023  |  Jason C. Brown

The COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we live, shop, and work. It also changed the way we head to court. To its credit, the Minnesota Judicial Branch took just a month or so to adjust following the COVID-19 outbreak. While online communication appeared to be a Band-Aid® at the time, remote court hearings have since become the norm. With the exception of trials, almost all other family court hearings are now handled via Zoom. The fact that we have become amateur broadcasters requires attention to how you appear on camera. Here are 10 things to remember in the Zoom court era.

Turn on your camera. Many litigants opt to keep their camera off during hearings. However, part of the judge’s job is to assess credibility, and they can hardly do so looking at a blank screen.

Dress appropriately. Appearing in court from your living room does not grant the freedom to dress in your sweats. Business casual is fine.

Master the mute button. Stay muted unless and until the judge asks you a question. When asked, remember that you are muted and unmute yourself. Even if you are muted, it’s good practice to assume the microphone is on to avoid saying something that would make a bad impression.

Lock up the pets. If the judge’s cat runs across the screen, it might be funny.  But it’s less funny if yours does.  The best thing to do is keep the critters tucked away while you are on camera.

Pay attention to lighting. You don’t want things too bright or too dark. Natural lighting, away from direct sunlight seems to work best. 

Avoid facial expressions. This may be difficult during an emotional time, but it’s essential. Zoom allows everyone to sit face to face. Anything you do — whether you smile, frown, laugh, roll your eyes, or shake your head — is a distraction that can be immediately interpreted by the judge.

Stay out of the car. Logging on from your vehicle gives the court the impression that the hearing is not important to you. Find a place that suits the seriousness of the business at hand. If you have no other choice, select an appropriate digital background for yourself.

Log on early. Judges are forgiving with technological glitches, though it’s best to avoid computer problems altogether.  You can do so by logging on at least 10 minutes before your scheduled hearing, so you can address any tech issues that may arise.

Be alone. Do not have others with you during the court appearance, even if they are sitting off to the side. It is easy for litigants to get distracted by others in the room. Worse yet, your friends and family don’t always know if that microphone is on or off.

React once fully logged off. If you are dissatisfied with a decision, wait to until after the Zoom hearing has formally come to an end and you confirm you are logged off before you express your feelings. You will likely be back in front of the same judge at a future hearing.

Always Be Prepared

When it comes to online hearings, it’s always good to be prepared. These 10 things to remember in the Zoom court era can help you do exactly that. If you have other concerns before heading to virtual court, our trusted attorneys at Barna, Guzy & Steffen can help you find the answers. Contact us today.