Plaut Spouts: Top Ten Tips and Tricks for Lawyers on Zoom!

August 16th, 2020 By David L. Plaut

I came up with this list the hard way and don’t think that’s because I’m a technophobe.  I’m not and won’t make any stupid myspace jokes here.  There are usually some problems with Zoom depositions, mediations, and hearings and most of that is user error.  Here are some things to think about before jumping on Zoom:

  1. Practice, practice, practice!

If you haven’t used Zoom for a deposition, mediation, or hearing make sure you set up a practice session with someone who has so you are comfortable with its features.  If you need to use documents for your deposition, mediation, or hearing (“share” them in Zoom phraseology) make sure you’ve practiced this so you know how to do it easily when the time comes.

  1. Make sure you have good wifi and internet connectivity.

Make sure you’ve got good wifi for yourself and any witness you are presenting.  It’s going to be extremely frustrating if you don’t get wifi issues resolved before your Zoom meeting.  Moreover, if your internet service is spotty and your connection comes and goes, you’re going to have problems.  We invested in a “mesh” wireless system recently that extended the range of our wifi and that’s made all the difference.  If money-whipping the problem at home or the office isn’t an option, you’ll need to find good wireless somewhere else.

  1. Check your microphone and speakers.

Make sure your microphone and speakers are working properly before you get on the Zoom meeting.  You have that option before entering any Zoom meeting.  Use it and check and make sure everything’s working properly.  If you’re consistently having problems being heard think about getting a wireless headset that can be paired with your laptop though Bluetooth.  May look dorky, but there’s nothing more important for a lawyer than being heard clearly.

  1. Use “gallery view” and not “speaker view.”

The gallery and speaker view tabs are in the upper right-hand corner of your Zoom screen.  Use gallery view and not speaker view as the gallery view will tile all participants Brady Bunch style on your screen.  It’s important for you to be able to see what everyone is doing during your deposition or hearing.  You don’t want someone’s husband or girlfriend coaching or passing notes to a witness (and that happens more often than you’d think).

  1. Think about production values for your Zoom meeting.

The look and feel of your participation on Zoom affects how you are perceived and thus your credibility.  Use neutral backgrounds and not a wacky casino or the like however hilarious that may be.  Try not to have the screen view framing your bedroom in the background.  Make sure the lighting is good.  For hearings, think about setting up your laptop or webcam in a way that allows you to stand and argue when addressing the Court.  The judge may be willing to let you sit and argue at a hearing, but it’s more compelling to be standing before the Court for argument.  There are portable lecterns available for purchase that can facilitate a “courtroom experience” for Zoom argument.   Make sure that the shot is framed properly.  I put a piece of tape on the floor in front of me so I know where to stand so I am positioned in the center of the screen.

  1. Dress professionally.

We’ve all heard horror stories about lawyers getting yelled at for inappropriate casual dress for Zoom hearings.  Business casual is appropriate for depositions and mediations.  Clients, witnesses, and other lawyers generally expect you to look like a lawyer.  For hearings, you need to dress professionally as you ordinarily would for court.

  1. Go over the Zoom ground rules in any deposition.

Your court reporter will swear in the deponent according to the rules for depositions, but you should go over a few things about Zoom in your opening discussion of ground rules.  Ask the deponent about their prior use of Zoom and whether they understand generally how it works.  Emphasize that the deponent cannot use Zoom’s “chat” function while on the record during the deposition.  Make it clear that no one can coach a witness or discuss their testimony (other than the lawyers subject to the applicable rules of evidence).  Stress the critical importance of not talking over the top of each other so there’s a clean record.

  1. Know how to share documents easily and effectively.

This is very important especially for Zoom depositions.  The idiot-proof way to do this is to prepare a folder of pre-marked exhibits prior to the deposition.  Save the folder of exhibits to your desktop and then “share” the entire desktop when you’re ready to use the exhibits.  Make sure there’s nothing on your desktop that you wouldn’t want everyone to see.  Nobody will care about the ordinary icons on your desktop like Outlook, Word, Google, whatever.  By sharing the folder of exhibits from your desktop you’ll be able to access the exhibits you know you’ll need easily.  You can always add additional exhibits to that desktop during the deposition at a break so you can question a witness on those documents.  That allows you some flexibility during the deposition.  Pre-marked deposition exhibits will make it easy to toggle back and forth between exhibits as you question a witness.  Don’t worry about having exhibits that are duplicative of another party’s exhibits.   Have your own exhibits on your desktop marked with an identifier like “Defendant’s Exhibit No. 1” to distinguish your exhibits.  You don’t want to have to rely on anyone else to access the exhibits you need in the moment.  When sharing exhibits, make sure the deponent can see what you are seeing onscreen and always identify the exhibit by number for record purposes.

  1. Spend some time doing a Zoom preparation with your client.

Well in advance of the deposition or evidentiary hearing, make sure your client has a good internet connection and wifi and knows how to use Zoom.  Your clients must understand how to use the mute function and how to turn the video on and off. If you have to bring a client to your office, do so with masks and social distancing.  Think about setting your client up in an office or conference room with a laptop unmasked for the deposition while you participate from another office on your laptop.  Tell the client not to discuss the case with you live on the video feed but to ask for a break.  Clients should mute themselves and turn off video during breaks and should communicate with you by telephone out of sight and hearing of the other Zoom participants, preferably from another room with the door closed.

  1. Remember Murphy’s Law: somethings always goes wrong!

Technical difficulties are bound to happen, if not for you then for the witness or another lawyer.  In a recent hearing of mine, the court sent the Zoom link two minutes before the hearing and our server sent the court’s email directly to my Spam folder.  I was ten minutes late for that hearing and started out apologizing, which is not ideal.  Something usually goes wrong at some point.  Zoom’s an imperfect alternative to in-person appearances and tech issues are especially anxiety producing for most lawyers.  Do yourself a favor and work through your Zoom prep and functions before jumping on the call.  You’ll be glad you did!