Column

Digital Decorum and Respect for the Administration of Justice

Everyone is talking about the “new normal”: working from home; self-isolation and even quarantine; kids running around the house; dogs barking; cats acting as paper weights; spouses carving out their own work spaces and sharing space; unstable internet connections; and even cabin fever.

Just because we are working from home and can walk around in our jammies, t-shirts, track pants or even bathrobes (a’ la JJ) does not mean we should. Maintaining consistency and routine will help you through the pandemic and make you more efficient.

Even in the best of non-pandemic times, our clients are worried and scared. This fear is amplified by the uncertainty and daily barrage of bad news and economic chaos. It is time for professionals and especially the bar to step up and show leadership. This starts with decorum and maintaining your professional standards and appearance.

We are hearing stories of lawyers conducting meetings in their bathrobes and even court hearings from bed. Sometimes shirtless or in bathing suits by the pool. This reflects poorly on our profession and the administration of justice, and Judges are taking note.

In the U.S., a Judge recently wrote that:

[The] Family Court has been the least affected because it had two aspects unique to it: first, it’s a very high priority because of families in crisis and children in harm’s way and, second, it doesn’t involve jury trials. So those of us in Family have been running dockets, conducting both evidentiary and non-evidentiary hearings, and even trials. And we continue to do so.

…. 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.

… At the end of the day, we conduct these hearings as best we can, knowing we’re running on one of those miniature spare tires we pulled from the trunk rather than a “real” tire. … We’ll get there, but it may get a little bumpy along the way. 

In short, as the ABA Journal recently commented, lawyers “should not dress like they are poolside.”

Other news outlets note that:

 “If you show up in jeans and T-shirt, it’s counterproductive.”

Online there is a viral video of a professional engaged in a zoom call who goes to the washroom during the meeting not knowing that her camera is on and the several people involved in the meeting witness her taking care of her business while she is taking care of business. Although humorous (and incredibly embarrassing), this video illustrates the heavy onus on professionals to play our part and set an example for others to follow, especially when it involves judicial proceedings.

Demonstrating civility and respect is not only our professional obligation pursuant to the Rules of Professional Conduct, but it’s also our duty as Officers of the Court to promote decorum and respect for the administration of justice. The solution is simple: brush your hair, put on a shirt, tie, blazer or blouse. Anything less would be doing a disservice to public and our clients.

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