Despite this new practice being the norm and not the exception, many lawyers still adhere to the basic use of videoconferencing – using the built-in computer camera and microphone. Counsel are often seen from under their heads and are at times heard speaking to someone else, having forgotten to mute themselves. I believe the pandemic has caused lawyers to forget that it is essential to present themselves online the same way they present themselves in person.
There are quite a few different ways to up your videoconferencing game – by spending a little money or a lot. Whether you just want to polish up your videoconferencing presence or supercharge it to an impressive level, here is some advice for you to maximize your virtual presence.
- Be aware of your angle – If you speak with your client, or opposing counsel “eye to eye,” why look down at your computer, tablet or smartphone? The cheapest suggestion would be to prop up your device – using books or whatever would keep your device level - to an angle that allows you to look directly into the camera. However, for less than $10, you could purchase a tablet or smartphone tripod, or for about $30.00, you can purchase a laptop stand. I personally like my laptop stand because, as someone who uses multiple monitors, the stand allows the window of my laptop to line up with my two monitors.
Get an external camera – The short answer I usually give to my clients is that built-in cameras are just not worth it if you want to appear professional. They lack the quality and resolution of a decent camera, the lighting is poor, and it is usually at a fixed angle. Many webcams come with autofocus and digital zoom and, if you purchase one with a built-in microphone, may come with noise cancellation. For a good webcam/noise reduction microphone setup, I recommend the Logitech Brio 300, which costs approximately $70. It features a noise reduction microphone, auto light-correction, and a privacy shutter, and it is ready to function out of the box. For about $50 more, you can purchase the Brio 500, which has higher resolution, auto focus, and provides several fields of view.
If you find yourself conducting or attending meetings out of the office, consider an inexpensive external webcam to keep in your laptop bag. Again, even if out of the office, it is important to keep up your appearance. The best small external webcam I have used is the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920x, which runs about $60. This camera comes with a stereo microphone while, not as good as a separate microphone, provides clear sound quality.
Consider a separate microphone – As I said earlier, you want your virtual appearance to mirror your in-person appearance as much as possible. So why undermine your value with poor sound? Using the built-in microphone leaves much to the unpredictable – echo, feedback, excess background noise and the like. An external microphone will remove these variables and allow you to easily control volume, location, and most will allow you to mute at the touch of a button. For less than $40, you can purchase the Samsun Meteor Mic which stands on a tripod. The pickup pattern of the mic captures the audio in front of the microphone while reducing ambient sound. For about $120, I recommend any of the Logitech Blue microphones.
If you do not want your microphone sitting on a stand on your desk, there are many varieties of boom microphones. As with the tripod mics, these microphones are USB-enabled, and most are “plug and play.” They run about the same as a tripod microphone – however, if you are savvy enough to keep the microphone out of the picture, many prefer the boom microphone to keep their desk clear.
There may come a time when you are traveling and need to hop on a virtual meeting. While most tripod and boom microphones come with a carrying case, it might not be practical to travel with such large accessories. Enter the lav (lavalier) microphone. You know it as the “lapel” microphone. For as little as $20, you can get a USB-enabled lav microphone and keep it in your laptop travel bag. For about $60, you can purchase a Sennheiser Pro lav which, in my opinion, sounds incredible.
- Lights, lights, lights – If you want to present yourself as yourself in a meeting, then be yourself. Don’t hide in the dark, or be flushed out by windows or doors behind you. Invest in an inexpensive system that makes you look like you to your client, counsel, or judge. Called “ring lights,” these lights have many features that will improve your virtual presence, such as adjustable color temperature and brightness, flexibility to move the lights to a beneficial angle, and also provide a full 360 degrees of light, which is ideal for facial lighting. Most ring lights are also USB-enabled. Prices for ring lights range from approximately $20 to over $100.
- Turning it up to 11 – The HDMI broadcast switcher deck
A broadcast switcher is essentially a mixing board that podcasters use to introduce various elements to their broadcast, such as switching to different monitors, using fade-in and fade-out or fade to black, using picture-in-picture, using still graphics, incorporating graphics to the lower third of the screen, and more. While this sounds like overkill for attorneys, once you are familiar with the setup of the switcher, it can be easier to use than the dropdowns of the several videoconferencing platforms.
The most popular switcher on the market today is the Blackmagic ATEM Mini Pro ($295 on Amazon). It is 9 inches by 4 inches, contains 4 HDMI inputs, 2 3.5mm stereo jacks, an ethernet jack and a USB-C jack. It sits flat on the desk, and the panel is well-lit for ease of use. Instead of having to “click” mute and unmute on your computer, the ATEM does it with the push of a button. Instead of fumbling around with finding a document when you want to “share your screen” with attendees, the ATEM does it simply with the use of the “picture in picture” buttons, which will allow you to insert the picture in any of the four corners of the screen. With four HDMI inputs, the ATEM will allow you to change which screen you wish to be presenting. Once you are familiar with the switcher’s controls, you will be able to use them without being seen on the screen.
A final note about switchers – once you become familiar with using the switcher, it is a good idea to consider practicing giving your own presentation. Many lawyers are using the switcher on their YouTube channels, podcasts, and their own websites. For the money, a switcher is a great investment to building your name and growing your practice in today’s technological world.
A Few Final Pointers
While not necessarily tech-related, here are a few pointers to remember when appearing virtually:
- Know your background in advance of the meeting. It may not be best to use the same background – or any background – during the meeting. What may work in your rotisserie draft may not work in court. Virtual platforms have settings for you to change your background, so please familiarize yourself with them.
- Use an appropriate screen name for each meeting. This is also something that can be done in advance of a meeting. I am certain you have seen the video of the defendant who appeared at a criminal hearing with a vulgar screen name. Don’t let that happen to you.
- Always begin your Zoom meeting on mute! Even if you are not talking, microphones can pick up shuffling papers, telephones and background noise. Remember also to mute yourself anytime you are not speaking.
- Familiarize yourself with the settings of the platform you will be using. Just because your meeting is on Zoom doesn’t mean you cannot adjust the settings. Platforms allow you to change the picture you are seeing (gallery view v. fit to window), adjust the microphone settings, and determine who you can chat with during the meeting. Be careful with the chat function – you do not want to send a personal chat to the entire group.
- Last but not least, do check your internet connection before starting. While this sounds basic, it is often overlooked. To that end, I carry my “mi-fi” with me whenever I travel. A mi-fi is essentially a separate remote hotspot that you can purchase from your phone provider. The connection is password-protected, and allows several users to be on that protected hotspot.
While this sounds like a lot, lawyers can elevate their virtual presence by investing a small amount of money. Desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones were not made to maximize one’s virtual appearance. Thankfully, affordable and effective options are available to do this very thing. How much and what tools you wish to invest in depend on your comfort level. Remember, however, this is an investment in you and how you wish to be seen by your clients and your peers, so please consider that as you choose the technology that is right for you.