Phoning it In?

12/31/2014   No Comments

by admin

Published in Hawaii Bar Journal  September, 2014
By Ted H.S. Hong


Courts and agencies have been allowing attorneys to appear by telephone with greater frequency. Occasionally, counsel’s lack of professionalism is exhibited during these hearings. A refresher may be in order.


Courtesy not a right: Appearances by telephone are a courtesy extended to counsel. Some attorneys act as if they are entitled to a telephone appearance and are demonstrably annoyed when the court is not able to take the call right at the time it is scheduled. The courts have other items on their calendars, so counsel should appreciate the courtesy.


Formal Hearing: Attorneys need to conduct themselves as if they were in the courtroom, not just on the phone. Many attorneys speak informally as if they were talking about their Fantasy Football picks. Some attorneys state on the record, “Yeah, uh huh, sounds good, I dunno.” Often, attorneys will speak out of turn or speak over the judge. Counsel should be respectful and speak as if they were physically in court and be mindful not to interrupt the judge or opposing counsel and apologize if they do so inadvertently.


Location, location, location: Some of lawyers use mobile phones exclusively. If you use a mobile phone, find a quiet place where you can be heard and the court does not have to listen to the morning coffee orders in the background. Make sure you have good reception. If the reception is marginal, it can become a frustrating experience for everyone.


Slow your roll (aka “Cool your jets”): Phone calls being carried over the court’s audio equipment are problematic. Counsel should speak slowly and clearly during the hearing. Counsel talking like they were on a double espresso rush, does not help the court or anyone else understand your position.


Identify yourself: If there are other attorneys on the call, identify yourself each time before you speak. Your partner may recognize you by voice, but the court, law clerk, and court reporter, will not. So before you launch into your argument, identify yourself to the court and other parties.


K.I.S.S.: We all know what this acronym stands for. A telephone hearing should not be an opportunity to recite one of the Federalist Papers verbatim. Hit the highlights of your brief, answer the court’s questions succinctly. And respond to opposing counsel’s argument directly. Good advice for any hearing.


Be grateful: As in life, we should express our gratitude for any courtesy extended to us and our client. To those courts and administrative agencies that allow telephone appearances, we should express our gratitude for saving our clients fees and costs.

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