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Common sense has left the building | Marcel Strigberger

Friday, May 21, 2021 @ 2:31 PM | By Marcel Strigberger

Marcel Strigberger %>
Marcel Strigberger
No kidding; I would never have thought of that. This was my reaction to the recent COVID-19-driven court direction on “Best Practices and Etiquette for Remote Hearings.” It lists over a dozen bulleted trite guidelines on what lawyers are supposed to do and how they should behave on tele/video events. I ask, is this guide really necessary? Are we presuming the pandemic has eradicated common sense in lawyers?

For example, one pearl of wisdom is “Find an appropriate space.” What does that mean? I doubt too many lawyers would, but for this direction, participate a motion for an injunction while sitting at Starbucks.

“Your Honour, before I answer your question, I wish to confer with the gentleman next to me sipping his Frappuccino.” 

“Certainly, counsel. Go ahead.”

Then there is some sage tech advice. “Ensure your phone, computer or device is plugged in or charger is handy.” Many lawyers especially we boomers may not be tech geeks but to conclude that these devices run on electricity, you don’t exactly have to be Thomas Edison. Give us a break.

Speaking of hydro another gem is “Familiarize yourself with your microphone, camera and speakers.”

I certainly am not as at ease with technology as my grandchildren are, but I have yet to enter my study, look at my mike, camera and speakers and have the irrepressible urge to say, “What are these strange creatures doing on my computer? Aliens! I’m calling 911.”

A couple of directives deal with decorum formalities. One reads, “Dress in appropriate business attire.” It does not elaborate. Given the emotional stresses of the pandemic, the courts should cut us some slack on this one. Go easy on the “business.” I personally would like to participate in a video conference dressed like the King, to wit, Elvis. Hairpiece, suit, the works. Does anybody doubt it would cheer us all up?  Uh huh huh? What say you? Thank you; thank you very much.

Another surprising direction suggests you look into the camera while speaking. I needed to hear this sage advice. I don’t know about you but were it not for this direction, my first inclination would be to speak while crouched under my desk. “Hello, I’m down here. Peek a boo.”

Colleagues take note. Look into the camera. It’s that thing over your screen that looks like an eye. And remember to familiarize yourself with it.

There are also a couple of muting directions so as to avoid background noise. I have mixed feelings about this one. While I am all for civility and fairness, given that while in practice my clients were always right, why should the opposing lawyer be allowed to assail them with poppycock arguments? I say spare the judge’s ears from this potential audio contamination. My inclination, while my opponent talks, would be to ask my wife to turn on the blender. Make us a couple of smoothies. Hey, can anybody argue that they’re not healthy? And I would be sipping it in the appropriate space. Let right prevail.

The issue I take with this whole direction is that in addition to being trite, it is couched in a mood of solemnity. Are we taking ourselves a bit too seriously?

I recall flying on Virgin Airlines once. The safety video consisted of a cute cartoon where in demonstrating the seatbelt use, it noted something like, “Unless you have lived in a cave the past 50 years, you may have recognized this thing as being a seatbelt. You therefore should have some idea on how it functions…”

I doubt anybody clamored that Virgin Airlines did not take safety seriously. Not only did the passengers laugh but just as important, they watched and listened attentively.

Given the times, would it have compromised etiquette or detracted from the dignity of the justice system had its authors penned this direction with a twinkle in their judicial eyes and lightened it up a bit? I am just making a guideline suggestion. And I’d be delighted to assist. If interested they can zoom out to me. Of course I’ll be dressed in appropriate business attire.

While they think about it, I’ll pause for that smoothie.  
Marcel Strigberger retired from his Greater Toronto Area litigation practice and continues the more serious business of humorous author and speaker. Visit Follow him @MarcelsHumour.

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