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By Scott Brennan, CEO, Lexicon
COVID-19 has upended the day-to-day professional lives of most lawyers, including an abrupt shift to video conferencing. While this new way of communicating with colleagues and clients, along with making court appearances, may seem daunting, it doesn’t have to be. By paying attention to just a few key things, lawyers can ensure they — and their clients — are webcam ready.
Webcam tips for lawyers
Using a webcam successfully requires understanding how the technology works, along with adequate preparation and some tweaks to speaking styles and body language.
First, the technical aspects:
- Lighting: This is crucial as it will make or break an attorney’s webcam presence. Generally, you want to avoid only being lit from behind, above or underneath. Light should come from a source directly in front of you, and it shouldn’t be too bright. Invest in a ring light designed for webcam/video if lighting conditions aren’t ideal.
- Microphone: After lighting, sound is the most important aspect to get right in a webcam meeting. It’s a good idea to use a separate wired microphone for this. Built-in computer mics are notoriously unreliable, and a Bluetooth connection can fail.
- Camera positioning and surroundings: Position the camera in front of you and slightly above eye level. Then, have a look around your space. You don’t want clutter in the background or anything that would be inappropriate. Ensure there aren’t confidential documents in view, either. Placing yourself in front of a wall is always a good choice, or have a bookcase in the background — just be sure there’s nothing embarrassing on the shelves!
After all of this is in place, it’s important to prepare for video calls — and prepare and prepare and prepare. There is nothing worse than being in a webcam meeting with someone who is just figuring out how to use the conferencing platform, mute themselves, work their mic, or share their screen for a presentation. Just as a lawyer would practice opening and closing arguments, there should be dry runs for webcam meetings, particularly at first and for any important video calls, such as court appearances. Play around with the software, do a test meeting with a colleague, and make sure everything works well ahead of time.
Lastly, there are a few more things to think about in order to make a good impression on a video call:
- Don’t multitask. Yes, others can see your eyes dart to the side to look at a notification or your fingers work the keyboard to dash off an email. Don’t do that. Mute all notifications for the duration of the call so your focus doesn’t wander.
- Remember you are on video. Similarly, keep in mind that everyone on the call can see what you’re doing. This is not the time to wolf down lunch or make exaggerated eye rolls when you don’t like what someone else says. Be professional.
- Dress appropriately. Treat video calls like any other professional setting. Show up in a suit or at least business casual attire. And, yes, please wear pants. We’ve all seen the viral videos. You don’t want to star in one.
- Be aware of your gestures. If you talk with your hands or rely on body language and gestures to make points, you may have to adapt that for video. Avoid moving your arms out of frame and make your points with smaller movements.
Webcam tips for clients
Lawyers are not only having to get themselves webcam ready these days, but they also should be concerned about how their clients appear. The above tips should be followed by clients, with a few additional ones:
- Again. Every time a client is going to appear on a webcam, either for a meeting or court appearance, ensure that you’ve taken them through the same preparation you’ve done. And, insist on a pre-meeting on video before the actual call so you can check their appearance, clothing, background, and deal with any technical issues. Encourage them to have a glass of water and/or tissues beside them but limit other distractions around them.
- Don’t forget your usual pre-hearing preparation. Just as you would for an in-person hearing, go through your usual preparation for a client’s court appearance on webcam. Walk through expected questions, offer body language tips, etc. This would be part of the billable work you’d normally do for any hearing involving a client, so it should be done here, too.
- Don’t use the conference platform’s chat functions. It might be tempting to shoot a client a quick message using the text chat function offered by most conferencing platforms. Don’t. Not only is it not secure, it might also distract the client. If you absolutely must message them, do it with an email or a mobile phone text message.
As everyone gets used to this “new normal” and its impact on the practice of law, video calls are likely here to stay. There is no reason webcam meetings can’t be as productive and successful as in-person interactions. Just a few logical steps — for both attorneys and their clients — can make all the difference.
Scott Brennan is CEO of Lexicon, a provider of practice management software and legal support services in one integrated platform. This includes a full suite of video conferencing support for law firms and lawyers, as well as training.
Reprinted with permission from Attorney at Work (www.attorneyatwork.com).