A cat may have nine lives … but a video of a lawyer appearing as a cat in a virtual court hearing tends to have nine million views.
If you are new to what happened, here is a brief history of the Zoom Cat astrophe. Rod Ponton, a Texas prosecutor, logged into a zoom hearing on his secretary’s computer and was unable to remove the cat filter. Despite being nervous, Ponton declined to request an off-screen “paw” and playfully stated that he was ready to move on – despite making it clear that “I’m not a cat”.
What followed was a level of professionalism not generally seen in most courtrooms, with all parties purring appropriate responses. The other two attending attorneys remained catotonic and didn’t turn a blind eye when Ponton fought. Meanwhile, Presiding Judge Roy Ferguson did not berate Mr. Ponton for lack of technological waste or nagging for being forced to use technology in the courtroom. And while the judge posted a link to the video online, he did so not as an act of humiliation to cats, but as a cautionary story to enlighten other lawyers.
In the meantime, Ponton has chosen the right attitude to this hissing event. He hasn’t tried to circumvent his mishap, scratched himself for a takedown or not-stealing disdain for the video, or threatened a lawsuit. Instead, Ponton took the opportunity to further share his experience through television interviews in which he explained what happened without blaming his assistant or Leo for what happened.
Amazingly, other lawyers have taken up the story as well. Although such incidents are often catnip for self-righteous legal futurists; Most commentators were sympathetic when they had the opportunity to say “I told you so” or to urge more states to assume a duty of technical competence. After all, we now realize that we could all have been that cat on any given day. (In fact, at the beginning of the pandemic, I had an even worse mishap when a distant attorney whom I hastily organized without password protection was infiltrated by a troll who was scribbling male genitalia doodles on the screen in front of me and could regain control). And while the pandemic has undoubtedly made many of us quick-tempered and tired, it has given each of us the ability to show a little grace.
Food stalls are the same best practices we’re all familiar with:
- Avoid sharing or letting employees share a work computer with family members or use it for personal reasons.
- Just like you wouldn’t run into a courtroom seconds before the call, don’t go straight to a Zoom hearing – take the time to test your gear and do a background check (e.g. your dildo is shown on the screen?);
- If something goes wrong, be a cool cat and keep calm. It is not just the people present, but the entire internet that could witness your outbreak.
- If all else fails and you can’t fix a tech flub (which has happened to me many times before – computer screens not working in the courthouse or being prevented from getting my iPad into a second circuit argument with all of my notes), be You ready to move forward as best you can.
When we’ve learned something, lawyers old and young must make peace with technology because we have no other choice. We don’t have to revere it (like I do), but at least realize that it is a necessary evil that we cannot cast off. There’s no going back – “We discarded our choice, we lost our ticket, so we have to move on.” 2021 is really the year of the cat.