The Unwritten Rules of Zoom for Lawyers
When the pandemic hit and shut us off from each other, Zoom came to the rescue. But it also came with a learning curve.
All around the world, we started to roll our eyes at people who didn’t know how to mute themselves. We learned the word “zoom-bombing.” We started worrying about accidentally transforming ourselves into a potato.
For lawyers, Zoom etiquette carries high stakes. Not only do you rely on videoconferencing for meetings with clients and colleagues: you’re also at times using it to create virtual courts. Watching judges and lawyers trouble-shoot remote meeting tech in real time has been exciting — and also brought a few cringe-worthy moments (remember the flushing toilet in the middle of Supreme Court oral arguments?)
When the crisis first hit, there was a little more leeway for mistakes. But now that we’re settling into the ‘new normal,’ there are no excuses for your zoom gaffes.
So I’ve written a few of the unwritten rules of Zoom for lawyers. Here are 15 to get you started:
1. You Don’t Have to Look Like a Zombie
Does your video make you look grainy and gray? Maybe it’s not you. Some built-in computer cameras aren’t the best quality. To look lively, consider adding a USB camera. Just make sure you set it at a good angle so it’s not looking up your nose or down on your bald spot.
To improve your sound quality and avoid picking up background noises, you could invest in a set of airpods or a USB microphone.
I’ve got to add one caveat to this: if you struggle with gadgets, it might be best to stick with your computer default. It’s better to be seen in a grainy video than to miss the meeting because you can’t decipher what’s going on with your audiovisual inputs.
2. Don’t Lurk
Put your camera on so others can see you and acknowledge that you’re part of the meeting. Make sure you’ve got your correct name on your profile as well.
3. Take a Sneak Peek
I only learn I’m a mess when the work meeting begins and I suddenly confront my own image. While the Filevine creative team is very forgiving of my crow’s-nest morning-meeting hairdo, colleagues, clients, and judges might draw unflattering conclusions about lawyers who show up looking shaggy.
Fortunately, it’s easy to test your video image ahead of time. Here are the steps:
- Open the Zoom app on your computer.
- Click your profile in the top right corner.
- Click ‘Settings’
- Then click the ‘Video’ button.
This gives you a preview of what you look like. In addition to checking your appearance, also make sure you’re not showing something strange in the background.
4. Then Stop Looking at Yourself
We can tell when you’re doing it. Instead look at the colleague who’s speaking, or when you’re speaking look directly into your camera. When you instead look at the faces of the people you’re talking to (which is really only natural) it appears to others like you’re looking downward.
5. Don’t Sit or Stand in Front of a Window
Unless you’re an anonymous witness in an Unsolved Mysteries episode, don’t sit in front of a strong light source. When you do, you just look like a dark silhouette. Instead, get some lights going on in front of you.
6. Know How to Mute Yourself
Oh the things we have heard. The snack-crunching, keyboard clacking, dog-barking, child-screaming audio universe of Zoom meetings.
If you’re in a large meeting, stay muted unless you need to speak. Click and hold down the spacebar to temporarily unmute yourself if you just want to get in a quick word. In smaller meetings you can mostly keep your mic on (except when there’s background noises).
And of course: if you have to step away, mute yourself and turn off your video as well. Don’t pull a ‘poor jennifer’.
7. Don’t Get Distracted
Failure to pay attention will often derail the meeting. You’ll find yourself bringing up an email you just read and yank everyone away from the matter at hand. Or else you won’t know what someone’s talking about when they ask your opinion.
8. Don’t Dawdle
Don’t draw out the meeting longer than it needs to be. It’s fantastic to connect personally with coworkers. It was so fun when we first got to see each others’ puppies and kids in those early Zooms. But keep in mind that now you’re talking to people who have likely been on Zoom meetings all day. A few friendly words of greeting are fine, but then cut to the chase.
9. Be Strict with Security
You’re responsible to maximize security in your meetings and protect client confidentiality. Here are some recommendations from Zoom:
- Require a password
- Require authentication (everyone has to have an authenticated Zoom account)
- If some attendees don’t have a Zoom account, you can instead require registration.
- Enable the waiting room. This allows the meeting host to screen everyone before they enter.
- Add watermarks — Zoom offers image and audio watermarks. Should someone illicitly share images or audio from the meeting, the watermarks reveal who they are.
- Lock the meeting once everyone has joined
Here are a few other considerations to increase security:
- Make sure that everyone is using the most up-to-date version of Zoom.
- Don’t schedule meetings with your Personal Meeting ID. Your ID is always the same, and using it allows anyone who knows it from a past meeting to jump on. Instead, allow Zoom to automatically generate a new meeting ID for each meeting.
- Enable 2 factor authentication for users.
- Turn off people’s ability to rename themselves.
10. Don’t Talk Over People
Interruptions and side conversations are annoying in any meeting. But they’re catastrophic in Zoom meetings. The big rule of Zoom is that only one person can talk at a time. Of course, this is harder in remote meetings because we can’t read the subtle signs that someone is about to say something. If you’re having a hard time taking turns or your meetings feel chaotic, consider using a moderator. Require folks who wish to speak to use the ‘Raise Hand’ feature, and let the moderator direct who speaks next.
11. Watch the Waiting Room
The ‘Waiting Room’ is a great security feature. But if the host doesn’t pay attention to it, it becomes some kind of eternal purgatory or limbo. Would-be participants are stuck there indefinitely while the meeting moves forward.
If you’re facilitating or presenting in a meeting, you might want an assistant or colleague to host. They can focus on moving late-comers through the waiting room, while you get started.
12. Learn to Share Your Screen
It’s not complicated, but you want to make sure you’ve got a good handle on the tech before your big moment arrives. This is especially true if you have a set-up with multiple monitors. Troubleshooting help here.
13. Sidebar Securely
In the middle of a meeting, if you need to confer one-on-one or with a smaller group, use Zoom’s ‘Breakout Rooms.’ For instance, you can quickly sidebar with a client or co-counsel before moving forward in a discussion with others.
14. Keep an Eye on the ‘Chat’
The Chat is a handy place for people to drop share links or add information without interrupting anyone. Keep your eye out for that little red badge showing up on your chat icon — click it to see what others have added.
15. Master the Unobtrusive Goodbye
Don’t ghost the other participants. If you have to leave early but don’t want to interrupt the meeting, say your goodbye in the Chat or use the ‘wave’ function.