Florida Judge Offers Advice for Zoom Hearings: Dress Appropriately

"It is remarkable how many ATTORNEYS appear inappropriately on camera."

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Judge Dennis Bailey, who sits on the board of the Weston Bar Association, offered advice to attorneys appearing on zoom: dress appropriately.

One comment that needs sharing and that is the judges would appreciate it if the lawyers and their clients keep in mind these Zoom hearings are just that: hearings. They are not casual phone conversations. It is remarkable how many ATTORNEYS appear inappropriately on camera. We've seen many lawyers in casual shirts and blouses, with no concern for ill-grooming, in bedrooms with the master bed in the background, etc. One male lawyer appeared shirtless and one female attorney appeared still in bed, still under the covers. And putting on a beach cover-up won't cover up you're poolside in a bathing suit. So, please, if you don't mind, let's treat court hearings as court hearings, whether Zooming or not.

Students would be well-served to follow this advice as well.

 

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  1. I agree with “dress appropriately” (just today I put on a nice shirt for an online meeting with a group of elected officials). However, I think Judge Bailey goes too far when he criticizes people videoconferencing, “in bedrooms with the master bed in the background”. Particularly for those with roomates, spouses, or children in the house, the bedroom may be the only place where they can get some measure of peace, quiet, and privacy. I think this is an area where judges, along with everyone else, need to display some understanding.

    1. Absolutely agree with this.

      Just today, I was in a conference in which an associate was in his bedroom. At the start we were joking about using various backgrounds, and he made the comment that he had a one-bedroom apartment, which he shared with his significant other (who is also working from home). So he didn’t have a lot of options for locations.

    2. Agreed; judges have to understand that these are incredibly unusual circumstances, and there may just not be any option in terms of where you conduct your videoconference.

      The other day I had a judge set a telephone conference, and he ordered us to use landlines rather than cell phones. Well, I mean under ordinary circumstances that might be a reasonable order. (Some lawyers have no common sense; I’ve encountered ones who called into a court telephone conference from Starbucks or the street. Um, we can hear the background noise, dude. And we can’t hear you.) But lots of people don’t have landlines at home anymore. And we’re not allowed to go elsewhere. So, you know…

      1. Seems like the landline is part of the boilerplate that goes in the text order when they put the conference line information (at least in my district), and as far as I can tell it’s being pretty much universally ignored (including by me, since I don’t have a landline). Even the judges are calling in with cellphones.

  2. Even if it’s Florida, they should at least not have their cocaine in camera range.

  3. “One male lawyer appeared shirtless”

    Putin is a lawyer?

    1. Actually, he has a law degree (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vladimir_Putin#Early_life). (I don’t know whether he was admitted to the bar, however.)

      1. I’m sure he could be if he ordered it or if they even have something analogous to the bar in Russia.

  4. I find that remarkable. I work for a software company where almost all meetings are online, and the culture is that video is always on. People generally care for their appearance, and their surroundings, and are appropriately dressed; though I imagine dress for software engineers is somewhat more casual than what a judge expects of lawyers.

    I’m reminded of Vinny Gambini appearing before Judge Chamberlain Haller – “are you mocking me?”

    I am appalled to hear the what these judges wore, or didn’t and the surroundings in which they appeared. Shirtless? In bed, under the covers? Holy cow.

  5. For issues of location/background, Zoom has a feature to insert all manner of different locations (including intergalactic 😉

    1. Susan,
      Would one need a solid blue/green screen behind, in order for this to work? (Can you post about where in Zoom you find this feature?..I am not seeing it.)

      1. Under Settings, click on “Virtual Background” (or when in a meeting, click on the arrow to the right of the video button and click “Choose Virtual Background”). You don’t have to have a solid color behind you, but in my experience a simpler background does help the algorithm more reliably sort out the contours of your head/body.

    2. Isn’t the intergalactic “theme” used only for appellate hearings?

  6. In a world in which business casual has become the norm, it doesn’t seem like inappropriate dress for a court hearing conducted via Zoom. (Bare-chested men or bikini-wearing women would be unacceptable in business casual settings and should be in remote hearings too.) And btw, we all know by now that the judges and lawyers are all there to get the job done. The judge can dispense with his or her robes and maybe even his suit jacket and tie, and the system of justice wouldn’t suffer.

    1. I respectfully dissent from this opinion:

      The judge can dispense with his or her robes and maybe even his suit jacket and tie, and the system of justice wouldn’t suffer.

      I know several judges who would definitely disagree with this. In my experience (40 years before the trial bar), judges universally regard the act of donning their robes as a meaningful and significant reminder of their authority and responsibility. An ill-dressed lawyer will be interpreted — by many judges, lawyers, court staff, and public on-lookers — as being disrespectful to the court and to the justice system.

      And the business of the courts is categorically unlike others. What’s okay in the business world — including even the law firms from which those judges have come and to which they often return — is not okay for the public administration of justice, where symbolism is a very important contributor to the institutional authority and decision-making being invoked and dispensed.

      1. Judge Henry Friendly would wear his robes for public trials. But for conferences with counsel, even in his courtroom, he’d be in a business suit. Nobody doubted his responsibility or authority.

        1. Wasn’t Judge Friendly an appellate court judge?

          1. Judge Friendly was presiding judge of the Special Railroad Court from 1974 to 1986. The Court was tasked with valuing the railroads that had been taken over by the Government and merged into Conrail. I was among the counsel for one of those railroads.

            1. I didn’t even know there was a Special Railroad Court. Was there a Regular Railroad Court too?

              But thanks for the information; always glad to learn something new.

      2. I agree with Beldar. Judges can under appropriate circumstances — in chambers, for instance — wear suits and ties rather than their robes. But when presiding they should wear robes. And they should never ever wear less than a suit and tie when on duty.

        And a lawyer should always be dressed in a suit and tie, or the female equivalent in terms of formality, when appearing in court, in person or virtually. It doesn’t matter how casual your office attire is (or your home office attire these days); when you’re facing a judge, you show respect.

  7. The Judge Dennis Bailey?

  8. Buttoned up collars, ties and jackets are still uncomfortable and discriminatory, even though things are more evened up now below the waist.

    1. Regarding comfort, you need a better shirtmaker.

      I don’t get the comment that it’s discriminatory.

      1. It is a tool of the white, cis-heteronormative patriarchy.

  9. I was on a professional development video conference and the presenter clearly had a very large bong in the background. It didn’t help that he was based in Denver, CO and didn’t get the many joking references to “Rocky Mountain High” and the like.

  10. When we were first ordered to work from home and started figuring out teleconferencing for court proceedings, my boss told us in no uncertain terms that we still had to dress in court-appropriate attire for any court proceedings, whether in-person or virtual. For our attorney meetings, which we have once a week or so to keep in touch, casual is fine.

    I agree with previous posters that critiquing the background is a bit much. Make sure there’s nothing illegal or inappropriate in view (maybe aim the camera away from the bong and Busty Babes poster) and try to keep the background neat, but a bed in the background is not inappropriate. Not everyone has a lot of choice in where they video-conference. Though I would definitely MAKE the bed before starting the conference.

  11. It is an amazing application Vidmate for watching movies and television shows on the go.

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