Zoom court is one of the many changes to our judicial system and family courts as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While it isn’t ideal for many cases and proceedings, there are also advantages to using virtual appearances for certain types of court proceedings, and it will be interesting to see how our court system continues to use virtual options in the future once it is no longer the only option for conducting safe proceedings. Many jurisdictions have found creative and innovative methods to ensure that cases continue to be heard. If you are scheduled for a Zoom court proceeding, we recommend the following measures to ensure success.
Test Your Technology
Being prepared is always important for a court appearance, but being prepared for a virtual court proceeding is especially important because you are now dealing with the technological component of your court proceeding as well. Make sure that you know what software your court proceeding will be conducted in. Many jurisdictions are using Zoom, however you should verify this with your attorney or with the office of the clerk of court well ahead of time. Your court’s website should provide more information about how to attend virtual proceedings. For example, the 17th Circuit of Illinois has a Virtual Court Proceedings page here with a lot of information about virtual proceedings in Winnebago County and Boone County, Illinois. If you are outside of Winnebago or Boone Counties in Illinois, please consult your own county’s website for more information.
Download the software to your computer or app to your phone or tablet several days ahead of time to make sure that you have ample time to test your device and practice using the software. Being prepared will not only help ensure you are present at your court proceeding, it will also give you peace of mind and make you feel more confident about your virtual court experience.
Be sure that you have enough battery to last for the entire proceeding. Have a power cord available and make sure you are in a location where you can plug in to an outlet if necessary. Remember that your battery may not last as long when using video and your microphone and streaming the amount of data that is necessary for a court proceeding via Zoom. You also cannot be sure of how long you will have to wait and how many other cases will be called before yours.
Do you have a link to enter the court proceeding? Do you know how to join an existing meeting and enter the meeting ID and password, if there is one? Downloading the software is just the first step, and you’ll also need to make sure you know how to join the correct Zoom meeting to be present in court.
Video and Audio Preparation for Zoom Court
Some jurisdictions will allow you to join your proceeding via telephone, but then you cannot see the judge’s face or expressions. In some cases you will be required to appear by video as well. Do you know how to turn your video on and off through the Zoom app? Do you know how to mute yourself and unmute yourself so that you are silent except for those times when you are supposed to be speaking? Practice all of these actions ahead of time to be sure you are adequately prepared.
Does your laptop, tablet, or phone microphone work well? Can people hear you clearly? How close do you need to be to the microphone? Do you need a headset? Can you hear what others are saying in a Zoom meeting? You don’t want to be learning of audio problems for the first time when you sign into your Zoom hearing. It’s important that you test video and audio before court. You also need to understand the difference between muting your video (so that you cannot be seen) and muting your audio (so that you cannot be heard) and when to use each.
Practice Before Zoom Court
Practice with a friend, family member, or somebody from your attorney’s office prior to your first Zoom appearance by creating your own Zoom meeting and rehearsing all of the functions that you may be required to do in court. Don’t let court be the first time you use Zoom – too often, people realize they don’t have a working microphone, their audio is too quiet to understand what is going on, or they do not know how to use important functions until it is too late to fix the problem.
When you log in to your court proceeding, you might be placed in a waiting room until your case is called or you might be immediately pulled into your hearing. Be prepared for that. Plan to log in ten to fifteen minutes early to make sure that you have plenty of time to make sure you are in the correct meeting and everything is working correctly. Reach out to the Clerk of Court or your attorney if you are still in the waiting room 15 minutes after the scheduled start time of your case.
Update Your Name in Your Zoom Settings
Make sure that your name displays on your Zoom account settings and that you use the name that matches your name on your case, as the name on your Zoom account is the only way the court has to identify you in the waiting room and admit you to the correct hearing. The name of your device is a common default if you don’t add your name to your Zoom account, which means that the judge may be looking at a waiting room of people named iPhone 4 or Samsung Galaxy. Without your name on your account, the judge or clerk may not be able to admit you to your hearing from the waiting room and you may miss your court date.
Choosing a Location for Zoom Court
Make sure that you have a good internet connection to conduct your court proceeding. Your cell phone might not have a strong enough signal for your audio and video to transmit. It’s incredibly important that you have a strong WiFi signal and reliable internet data connection. You may need to plan ahead to go to a different location if you don’t have this readily available.
Be sure that you are in a quiet location with minimal background noise. Some people attend their Zoom court proceedings from their workplaces to avoid time off of work. If you must do that, be sure you are in a quiet room and that other people in your workplace know that you cannot be disturbed during this time. Set yourself up in your quiet location prior to the start of your Zoom court hearing. Do not wait for the judge to be talking to you in order to go and find a quiet location – this is very frustrating for the judge and everyone else involved in your proceeding.
If your car is the only quiet, private place available for you to attend court virtually, be sure that you are parked in a quiet location with strong data signal. Do not drive during your court proceeding. Several jurisdictions have sent out stern warnings against people participating in Zoom court hearings while driving.
Choose an area where you have a blank, non-distracting background clear of clutter, or use one of the virtual backgrounds available through the Zoom software.
If you are at home, keep children and pets out of the room. If your case involves children, it’s especially important that your children are not able to see or hear what is going on, or be seen by the judge or other parties to the case. The court does not allow you to bring your children to court in most cases, so they are also not allowed to be present during your Zoom court proceeding. This is incredibly important.
Make sure other people in your environment know that you shouldn’t be disturbed during this time. Do not converse with people who are off-camera. Do everything possible to set up an area for yourself for Zoom court that is private and distraction-free.
How to Dress for Zoom Court
Treat Zoom court like in-person court as much as you possibly can. This means you should dress professionally as if you were attending court at the courthouse even though you are attending via the internet. The judge can see you and expects you to take the proceeding seriously. Consult your local court’s website for dress code rules.
Wear a shirt. This seems obvious, but one of the most common complaints from judges in the first few months of Zoom court proceedings is that parties are signing into court without a shirt on. You would not walk into the courthouse shirtless – don’t do it via Zoom either.
Plan for the unexpected in Zoom court. While you may be tempted to only dress professionally in the areas where you expect to be seen, anything could happen. Your judge may ask you to tilt your camera or to turn your camera around to show that you are not referencing unauthorized documents, that you don’t have unpermitted persons present, or that you don’t have an unauthorized communication device in front of you. What if you drop your phone? What if you have to stand up for some reason? Even if you don’t expect your pants to be visible, anything could happen. Wear pants.
Behavior During Zoom Court
One of the most important rules of Zoom court is to mute yourself whenever you are not speaking. Don’t talk over people or interrupt people – this is especially chaotic for court reporters trying to create a transcript of the hearing and judges will not tolerate it. Identify yourself clearly any time that you speak.
Talk to your lawyer ahead of time about if or when you will be expected to speak so that you feel prepared. If you don’t have a lawyer, read your county’s rules about Zoom hearings to make sure that you are correctly identifying yourself. It is very important to pay attention so that the judge doesn’t have to ask you multiple times to identify yourself or answer a question. Zoom court allows for far more distractions than in-person court. Don’t text, work on another device, or otherwise do anything that pulls your attention away from the judge and the business of your court proceeding. The judge will be able to tell when you are not paying attention.
Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in Zoom court. Make sure your smoke detector is not chirping because it has a low battery.
Sit up and be alert at all times in Zoom court. Another big pet peeve of judges is when parties are laying down on the camera or Zooming from bed. Conduct yourself professionally as if you were present in the courthouse.
Do not photograph or record anything in your Zoom court proceeding as doing so is generally illegal. Do not take pictures, screenshots, videos, or otherwise record any of the proceeding as it is happening. If you want a record of what has occurred, you can order an official transcript through the clerk’s office.
Zoom Court Exhibits
If you are represented, your attorney will be responsible for presenting any necessary exhibits during your hearing. Most courts have established procedures for this. Holding up something in front of the camera is unlikely to be admissible as an exhibit. If you don’t have a lawyer, read your court’s rules and make sure that your exhibits are prepared, labeled, electronically filed, and delivered to the other parties ahead of time as required. Make sure you know how to share your screen if you’re going to be presenting exhibits through screenshare. Practice this ahead of time.
Your case’s success may be jeopardized by not understanding or following the rules for your county for Zoom court operations. Be sure that you’ve read and understand your local rules, understand how to operate your Zoom software, are fully prepared for your hearing, and log in early.
Hiring a Lawyer for Zoom Court
When you aren’t experienced with legal matters, virtual court can feel even more overwhelming than in-person court. Hiring an attorney is one way to make sure that you are protected. If you’d like to schedule a free consultation with an attorney who is experienced with Zoom court hearings in family law and criminal defense cases, you can contact us online or call us today at (815) 200-8802 to schedule a free appointment with one of our Wisconsin or Illinois attorneys.