10 Tips on Using Videoconferencing for a Court Appearance
By Kristy Hansen | July 14, 2021
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom meetings (and other forms of videoconferencing) have become the new norm. Court appearances are no exception. Having to attend court can leave people feeling nervous, hesitant, and uncertain—no matter the circumstances. If you are unfamiliar with Zoom – the primary platform that our Ontario courts are currently using – you may be feeling even more anxiety.
Despite their conveniences, virtual platforms have their own unique set of challenges. If you have an upcoming Zoom court appearance, you might be interested to know what you can do to ensure that it goes smoothly.
Here are 10 tips on making your next Zoom court appearance a success:
Tip #1 – Confirm your court date, time and Zoom link
Make sure you have received the Zoom link, login details, and the date and time for your hearing at least a few days in advance of the hearing. Court staff are generally very busy, and while they can field phone calls in the moments leading up to open court, it’s best if those phone calls aren’t panicked – and that you don’t risk that you can’t get through to someone!
Download Zoom before the day of your court appearance and practice logging in. Being familiar with the process of logging in will help you be comfortable and efficient on the day of your court appearance.
Tip #2 – Have access to a reliable computer and internet connection
Test your computer and internet connection beforehand. If you know your internet or computer are unreliable, make alternate arrangements.
Tip #3 – Have a backup plan
Make sure you have a backup plan in place in case technology fails you on the day of your hearing. Some examples of good backup plans include:
- Having access to a different computer, in case yours doesn’t work as expected;
- Having the Zoom telephone access code on hand and access to a telephone, in case the internet doesn’t work as expected;
- Having access to the neighbour’s wi-fi password, in case your internet doesn’t work as expected.
Tip #4 – Use your real name to log into Zoom
The Court will usually look for your name as it appears on the docket. Use your legal name. If possible, match your name to how it appears on your court documents. Try not to use a nickname—it could come across as unprofessional and the court reporter may not recognize it when your matter is called.
Tip #5 – Ensure your background is appropriate
Set yourself up in an area with adequate lighting and somewhere that doesn’t have anything distracting going on in the background. Do not attend while lying down in bed!
Examples of good settings for your virtual appearance include: a home office, a work office or boardroom (if you have access to one), a kitchen table, or somewhere with a blank or neutrally decorated wall behind you.
If you have a funny background set up on your Zoom, consider changing it to something more appropriate, or remove the fake background altogether.
Tip #6 – Log into Zoom at least 15 minutes before your court time
Some virtual courtrooms aren’t open to the public (for example, proceedings related to matters of child protection) and the court reporter will need to ask you who you are before court starts so you can be let into the “room.” In open court, the court reporter will sometimes privately ask who you are and change your screen name to match the dockets before the judge’s arrival.
Additionally, there is always the possibility that your technology and/or internet connection will fail at the worst possible time. By setting yourself up early, you will have the chance to access your backup plans and still arrive in court on time.
Tip #7 – Treat it like a regular courtroom
Act the same way you would in a normal courtroom.
Dress in professional clothes, as you would for a regular court appearance. Use “your Honour” when addressing the judge. Don’t eat, smoke cigarettes, vape, or consume alcohol during your appearance. Refrain from texting or making phone calls while court is in session.
Tip #8 – Practice good Zoom etiquette
For court to run smoothly, everyone needs to practice good Zoom etiquette. Mute yourself when you are not talking. Don’t interrupt people while they are speaking. Do your best to attend in a quiet place where there will be no noise or other distractions while you are unmuted.
Tip #9 – No photos or recordings
Do not take pictures, videos, or even Snapchats of anything in the proceedings. Just like in a real courtroom, you are not allowed to take photos or recordings unless you are given permission by the presiding Judge.
Tip #10 – Don’t show up as a cat!
But even if you do, don’t sweat it.
You might have already seen the internet’s latest Zoom court sensation where a lawyer appearing virtually before a judge accidentally appeared with a cat filter. The lawyer didn’t know how to turn off the filter so he offered to go ahead with the hearing, despite his face being that of a kitten: “I’m prepared to go forward with it. I’m here live. I’m not a cat.”
If something goes wrong with your court appearance, try not to sweat it. Sometimes you forget your microphone is on. Sometimes your internet stops working. And sometimes…you’re stuck appearing as a cat.
Following these basic tips will help make your Zoom court appearance a success. If you take the Zoom proceeding as seriously as you would an in-person hearing, you will show the judge that you are putting your best foot forward.
The Henderson Family Law team can take some of the stress off you by assisting with your Zoom court appearance. If you are seeking a lawyer to assist you with your upcoming family law court appearance, please contact us to schedule an appointment for legal advice.
This content is provided as a general informational source by Henderson Family Law, and does not constitute legal advice or opinion, or establish a lawyer-client relationship. Every situation is complex and fact-specific, and appropriate advice will vary accordingly. Do not rely on this information for legal decision-making under any circumstances. Please consult with us and obtain proper advice and strategy concerning the specifics of your particular situation.