On June 19, 2020 attorneys in our firm attending a continuing legal education seminar on how to effectively use Zoom to appear in federal court. Federal Judge John Munoz and Federal Magistrate Judge Stanley Boone were presenters, along with Keith Holland, Clerk of the federal court for the United States District Court, Eastern District of California, and others.
From this seminar, we learned:
- Attorneys and defendants appearing on Zoom need to dress for and act in exactly the same manner as if they were physically present in the courtroom in federal court. Judge Munoz gave various examples of poor conduct, including advising us of an attorney appearing on Zoom in a t-shirt.
- Attorneys need to make sure they have sufficient wi-fi speed or a hardwired ethernet connection to Zoom. Both judges gave examples of attorneys creating an unfavorable impression of themselves and their clients by dropping off court Zoom on multiple occasions during a single court appearance.
- Laptops are the preferred choice of judges for attorneys to appear for Zoom hearings, with iPads an acceptable choice, and cell phones being the least preferred. The device the attorney uses should list the device under the attorney’s full name, not, for example, “Bob’s iPad.” If the full name does not appear, the judge’s judicial assistant can rename the participant, and this extra work for the judicial assistant irritates the judge.
- Judge Munoz, in particular, does not like artificial backgrounds because they can create strange visuals on the other end, including the person disappearing!
- We can expect Zoom-only hearings in federal court in the Eastern District of California for many more months.
- Even when the courts open back up to the attorneys and the public, attorneys will have the option of appearing by Zoom for most types of court appearances in the United States District Court, Eastern District of California.
- Audio-only appearances on Zoom are disfavored by judges, and some judges won’t allow them.
- Evidentiary hearings with witnesses testifying via Zoom have recently begun, and we should expect more of them in the future.
The practice of law has changed due to COVID-19. Attorneys who will excel in representing their clients in this new world of federal court appearances on Zoom will make the extra effort to know the particular likes and dislikes of the judges they appear before. They will also make the necessary changes in their office to successfully implement Zoom into their practice of law. In a sense, those attorneys will bring the courtroom to them and they will conduct themselves on Zoom in a manner that effectively represents the interest of their clients. If you will be represented by a federal criminal defense attorney during the Zoom court era, you should expect no less.