Tech Tips and Tricks for Remote Advocacy
Monday, November 9, 2020
by: Coreen Wilson

Section: Fall 2020

Author Bio

Coreen Wilson is a partner at Wieck Wilson, PLLC.

Coreen’s practice focuses on insurance defense, including complex tort claims, premises liability actions and fraud. Her past experience includes commercial litigation, real estate and professional liability defense.

Perhaps you are excited that the legal world is finally catching up with technology.  Maybe you preferred the old way of practicing and cannot wait until litigation gets “back to normal.”  Regardless of your mindset, you are now forging a new frontier in remote advocacy whether you like it or not.  Here are some tips to make the Zoom life easier.
1. Turn off notifications.  Before you enter a video conference, turn off the notifications on your computer. This will help you avoid the dings and pings of incoming emails, reminders to update your software, and other reminders.  Here is how to turn off notifications in Windows.
In Settings, select “System.”

Then select “Notifications.”  Move the slider to “Off.”

While you are at it, close all programs that are not essential to your video conference (email, internet browser, Spider Solitaire, etc.). 

2. Details matter.  Just as when you appear live in a courtroom, the details of your appearance matter.  Beyond simply dressing professionally, consider what looks best online.  Bright whites and deep blacks do not present well, nor do busy patterns or loud colors.  Aim for neutral colors that create a good contrast between your clothing, skin tone, hair, and background.
Speaking of backgrounds, a bookcase of Washington Reporters is ideal.  If that is not an option, keep it simple and uncluttered.  The best background is professional, not distracting, and will keep the focus on your presentation.  Avoid virtual backgrounds, which can be fun on informal calls but do not present a professional image in a formal proceeding.  You do not want the finder of fact to focus their attention on your background rather than on the argument or testimony being presented.
Good lighting is also essential.  You can purchase lighting specifically designed for video conferencing, but it is not necessary.  Strategically placed lamps can do the job just as well.  Overhead florescent lighting is not particularly flattering for anyone.  I have found that positioning lighting behind my camera and turning off the overhead lights creates the best picture.
3. Maximize your online charisma.  Eye contact and hand gestures are two significant contributors toward creating charisma, a 2017 University of Toronto study found.  Use both to your advantage during remote presentations.
To establish eye contact, you have to look directly at the camera.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to use an external webcam (not the camera on your laptop) and mount it to a webcam stand or tripod.  Don’t panic, it’s not hard.  You can purchase a tripod like this on Amazon for less than $30, and it takes about 60 seconds to attach your webcam to it.  

Connect the webcam to your computer via USB and you are set.

The advantage of using a mount is that you have greater flexibility in the height and angle of your camera.  You want to set your camera at eye level or slightly above and angled down.  Play with the angles in advance of your video conference to determine the height and angle most comfortable for you.  Make sure you set the camera far enough away that your hand gestures and body language are visible.  Angle the camera so that your face and torso are visible and eliminate the view of excess space above your head.
You may wonder why you cannot simply set up your laptop so that the laptop camera is angled correctly and avoid the need for an external webcam altogether.  There are a few problems with this approach.  First, most laptop webcams are poor quality.  You will present a clearer, more professional image with an external webcam.  Frankly, you would probably be better off using the camera on your phone than a laptop camera.  Second, you might not be able to set up your laptop in a manner that both presents a good camera angle and also allows you to comfortably use your laptop.
To sustain eye contact during your presentation—whether it is oral argument on a motion, closing argument during arbitration, or remote voir dire - you are going to need to memorize.  Memorize your argument and practice it.  Yes, this takes more time.  You are saving time by doing everything remotely, so this simply requires allocating your time differently.
4. Imagery improves memory.  Visual aids are essential to effective online advocacy.  An easy way to prepare visual aids is via PowerPoint, which can then be used in a screen share during depositions or arbitrations.  Here is how to create a PowerPoint that displays a medical record, deposition excerpt, or other document.
Open PowerPoint.  Under the “Home” menu, select “Layout,” and then select the “Blank” theme.  This will create a blank slide with no text boxes.

Next open the document you want to display in your PowerPoint.  Go back to PowerPoint and select the “Insert” menu.  Under that menu, select “Screenshot.”  You will have the option to choose a screenshot from any open program.  Select the appropriate program.

Now you have a full screenshot of your document.  Click on the screenshot, then click on the “Picture Format” menu.  Click crop. 

You can adjust the black bars to crop the document to fit your needs.


Go back to the “Picture Format” menu and click “Crop” again.  Your screenshot will now be cropped to the area you have selected, but it is a smaller image.

To enlarge the image to fill the slide, click the cropped screenshot.  Drag a corner of the image to enlarge it.  Be sure to use the corner so your image maintains the same ration and does not distort.  Your screenshot will now look like this:

This works with any screenshot - Google Maps, an e-tran, a PDF, a photo, the plaintiff’s Facebook page - the possibilities are endless.
5. Learn how to use screen sharing (and how to talk the host through it).  If you host the Zoom call, you automatically have screen sharing privileges.  I typically volunteer to host Zoom arbitrations for this reason.  
If you are not the host, you will need to request permission to share your screen so that other participants can view the visual aids you have so carefully prepared.  The problem is that some arbitrators are not intimately familiar with Zoom and do not know how to enable screen sharing.  Here is how to talk your arbitrator through it.  
First, click the arrow next to the “Share Screen” button.  Then click “Advanced Sharing Options.”

Now click “One participant can share at a time.”  Then click “All participants.”

That’s it.  Now you can share your screen.

To share a PowerPoint, you have a few options.  If you open your PowerPoint and start your presentation, it will automatically default to full screen mode.  To Toggle back to Zoom without closing your presentation, hold down the Alt and Tab keys at the same time.  You will now have a gallery view of each of your open programs, like this:

Keep hitting the Tab key until you have selected the window you want to pull up.  Then release.

The other option is to change your PowerPoint settings so that your slide presentation does not default to full-screen mode.  To do that, select the “Slide Show” menu.  From that menu, click “Set Up Slide Show.”

You will see a dialog box with options for “Show Type.”  Click the second option for “Browsed by an individual (window).”

Click “OK.”  When you start your slide show, it will now appear in a window rather than in full-screen mode.
6. Practice to avoid tech glitches, but when they happen, acknowledge them.  Practice makes perfect, but the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.  If you experience a technology glitch during your presentation, acknowledge it.  If you do not, your audience will be confused and focus on trying to figure out what is going on rather than the material you are presenting.  Once the issue is acknowledged, unless you can fix the problem quickly, move on even if it means abandoning the demonstrative exhibit you planned to share.  Most people are generally understanding of technological difficulties, but do not frustrate your audience by making them wait.
7. Embrace YouTube.  Are you overwhelmed by technology, unsure what equipment you need, or want to learn how to maximize what you have?  There is a virtual army of YouTubers out there ready to assist, free of charge.  You will be surprised at what you can do with the technology you already have.  

For example, I have a three-year-old Microsoft Surface Pro.  Unless I was in trial or mediation, it typically sat in a cabinet.  Once litigation went remote, I watched about an hour of videos that taught me all of the tips and tricks available on the Surface that I had never taken advantage of.  I now know how to use my Surface during arbitrations to markup PowerPoint slides in real time, underlining important dates or highlighting impeachment material.  I did not buy anything new or get the latest model.  I simply learned how to use the technology I already had.  Make sure you are using your available technology to its greatest potential.