Be a Gallant, Not a Goofus: Best Practices for Online Video Proceedings

As a kid, a visit to the doctor or dentist also meant reading Highlights for Children in the waiting room. My favorite part of Highlights was the Goofus and Gallant comic strip, which compared the actions of Gallant, who didn’t interrupt his parents, shared toys with his friends, and didn’t pull girl’s hair, to those of Goofus, who did the opposite.  Gallant wasn’t perfect, but his actions were to be emulated. Being like Goofus was to be avoided. 

    To be a Gallant, and not a Goofus, here are tips: 

  • Dress for success. A video court proceeding is still a court proceeding. Please don’t be the person who appears at a proceeding in a swimsuit by a pool, or, under their covers with bedhead. Wear something that you would wear to a live proceeding. 
  • Practice makes perfect. Most of the common platforms allow you to test your video and audio setup before a proceeding. How do you look? How do you sound? Consider investing in a new camera rather than using the setup that came with your laptop. Connect to the internet via a network cable if you can. It will be more reliable than wireless. 
  • Know your surroundings. If you are on Twitter, check out @ratemyskyperoom to see what a difference lighting and background make. What is your background like? Is anything confidential in view? Do you look like you are an organized professional, or do you look like you are being held hostage? If there is too much noise, try to move your setup. Do the best you can. At some point or another, everyone reading this is going to find their setup interrupted by dogs barking, children in need, vacuuming, or the appearance of an army of landscapers with leaf blowers blowing. 
  • Speaking of backgrounds, steer away from virtual backgrounds in court proceedings. Your children may think it is cool if you are on the bridge of the Death Star, but typically judges are not impressed. 
  • Try to look in the camera when talking. My colleague Jack Pringle puts a post-it note next to his camera to remind him where to look.  
  • Coordinate and lay some ground rules. Does everyone have a set of exhibits? Have they been shared with each other and with the court? Do your witnesses have access? Consider requesting a brief meeting with the judge a day ahead of time to make sure that everyone understands the sequence of witnesses and exhibits.  
  • Make sure everyone has contact information in case someone gets disconnected, and generally talk through what to do if someone unexpectedly loses internet connectivity. Instruct everyone how to log back in if a connection is lost temporarily – some courts lock hearings after they start.  
  • If you will have witnesses, google “witness checklist” for something that you can send to them so they know what is expected. There are plenty of examples out there so you should not have to reinvent the wheel. 
  • Speaking of witnesses, witness coaching is becoming a concern. You need a setup that allows the lawyer and the witness to appear on screen  simultaneously. Consider placing the witness in a different room. The added bonus to being separated is that neither of you must wear a mask. At the end, after talking for an hour or two, you won’t feel like you have just climbed Mount Everest. Make sure that the witnesses don’t have easy access to electronic devices – ask what they have within view. Ask whether they are alone. 
  • Make sure everyone has waived their right to a live hearing.  
  • Make sure no one is recording the proceeding.  
  • Mute your microphone when you aren’t speaking. (My mother’s advice to be seen and not heard has served me well.) Even if you can’t see or hear the judge and other parties, assume that they can see you, and act accordingly. 
  • Close your email and turn off your reminders. Don’t have any distractions. You may think that you can set your fantasy football lineup or answer emails and no one will notice, but trust me, everyone knows you are not engaged. If you don’t take your phone out to check Twitter at a live hearing, don’t do it during a proceeding. 
  • Be vigilant about talking over people. If it even looks like the judge is opening her mouth, make sure you are not speaking over her. 
  • Confirm whether you need a court reporter. If you do, make sure the court reporter has adequate equipment and bandwidth. If the court reporter needs to, consider allowing the court reporter to use an extra office in your office. 
  • If you lose the contact information for a proceeding, go to sccourts.org, and then go to the Calendar option on the upper right hand of the screen, put your cursor over it, and click on Monthly View. When you get there, go to the date of your proceeding and then click on the court you need. That will lead you to a page that lists the judges with proceedings that day. Find your judge and click on the link for the virtual courtroom. If you are prompted for a password, it is usually sccourts. Each judge’s page also contains call in numbers and helpful instructions.  

We all have some Gallant and Goofus in all of us. Be patient and kind to yourself and others when things don’t go according to plan. We’re doing the best we can under the circumstances. Video proceedings are not going away, so the time you put into learning and thinking about this is time well spent. 

Written by:
Michael J. Polk, Chair, Technology Committee
Belser & Belser, PA
Columbia, South Carolina