Best Practices For Navigating A Remote Hearing

With the progress in technology and internet connections over the past few years, and the acceleration due to the pandemic, we have seen a large shift from in-person only to mostly remote hearings in civil cases.

For the past year, civil courts in North Carolina have been conducting hearings and other court proceedings remotely. Here, we highlight the best practices for civil litigants who are going to appear before a judge in a North Carolina district or superior courts. By educating yourself on the process and following your attorney’s specific directives, you will be well-prepared for your next remote court appearance. 

  1. Get Set Up With the Right Technology.

Perhaps the worst outcome for a remote civil court hearing is to make it halfway through only to lose your internet connection, experience a computer crash, or otherwise disconnect due to an avoidable technical glitch. There are some key ways to ensure that you are well-prepared and have the proper technology for a successful remote hearing:

  • Make sure your computer or phone supports the applicable video conferencing technology and that you have downloaded any necessary applications well before your hearing date. 
  • On the day of the hearing, make sure your computer or phone is plugged in and fully charged and that you have a charger handy just in case. 
  • Use headphones with a built-in microphone and a mute button to reduce echo and provide the best sound. 
  • Avoid using a speakerphone or your computer’s built-in speaker, where possible. 
  • Silence your cell phone so that you do not receive any notifications during the hearing. The constant ping of a text message or app notification is unprofessional.
  • Close-out all applications and internet tabs that you will not be using during the hearing. You want your only focus to be on what is going on in virtual court, not elsewhere on your device.  

Keep in mind that with a remote hearing, the only true difference is your location: if you would not engage in a certain behavior (texting, internet surfing, or taking calls, for instance) during an in-person proceeding, you should not do so during a remote session.

  1. Choose the Right Location.

Just as the right technology will ensure a smooth hearing, so will the right location. Here are some tips on choosing where to set yourself up: 

  • Choose a well-lit room. Do not sit with a bright light directly behind you. 
  • Sit in front of a simple, neutral backdrop that will not distract others. 
  • Find a private, quiet room without a lot of ambient noise. As best you can, limit distractions from children, pets, or other family members who could interrupt the hearing. 
  1. Test Everything.

Well in advance, test every piece of equipment you plan to use during the hearing. Download the proper software (likely Zoom or WebEx) and familiarize yourself with the application and log-on procedures. Likewise, make sure your camera, headphones, phone, or any other piece of technology you plan to use is working properly and is fully charged. If you have any backup items (such as an extra set of headphones), have those handy as well, in case you need to use them during the hearing.

Lastly, be sure to test your technology from the location you will participate in the hearing. This way, you can check the strength of your internet connection to ensure you will have a strong signal during the hearing. This is especially important for a videoconference, which can consume large amounts of your bandwidth. 

  1. Speak at Appropriate Times and in an Appropriate Manner.

It is just as important during a remote hearing as it is during an in-person one that you act respectfully toward all other participants in the hearing. You can accomplish this by doing the following:

  • Respect each speaker’s time. Do not speak over or interrupt anyone, including your attorney, and especially not the judge. 
  • Try your best to maintain eye contact with the judge (meaning, look at the camera, not at the people appearing on your screen). 
  • When it is your turn, speak slowly and clearly. There might be a lag with the internet connection, so speaking slowly and clearly will help everyone keep up, especially the court reporter, who has to record everything that is said. 
  • Before you speak, say your name so everyone, including the court reporter, knows who is speaking. You may also be asked to identify your role in the hearing (e.g., plaintiff, witness, defendant). 
  • Whenever you are not speaking, mute your microphone. 
  1. Log On Early.

At least a day before your scheduled hearing, make sure you have received an invitation with the meeting ID and password. This will probably be a Zoom or WebEx link, and if you have not received one, contact your attorney or the court to get it.

On the day of the hearing, log on to the system at least fifteen minutes before your scheduled hearing. If you have any technical issues, this will give you plenty of time to fix them before the hearing begins. All courts should have a troubleshooting support line, so be sure to have that number handy in case you need to contact anyone for assistance. 

  1. Dress for Court.

You might be sitting in your living room, but you should treat a remote proceeding just as you would a courtroom proceeding. Some suggest that you wear business attire from the waist up, but by now, we have all seen the viral videos of someone who wore business on top and casual on the bottom. Do not make that mistake; instead, take the extra step and wear your full courtroom attire.

  1. Act Appropriately in Everything That You Do.

Lastly, in addition to dressing as you would for in-person court, you want to act appropriately and be respectful in everything that you do. For example, when logging onto the system, you will likely be asked for your screen name. Your screen name should be your first and last name, instead of something cute or memorable. While a nickname or some other name might be memorable, memorable is not what you are aiming for when it comes to your reputation during a remote hearing! 

For additional specific guidance in preparing for your remote hearing, your attorney is an invaluable resource in making sure your hearing goes well.