Elder law attorneys now need to be camera ready as video personalities...are you ready for prime time?
The coronavirus, COVID-19 has brought many changes to the practice of elder law and special needs planning. We’ve learned to pivot quickly to integrate the use of online video into the unexpected need to suddenly work remotely to meet our elder law clients’ needs. Many of us had little expertise in video conferencing. This was a tool for Silicon Valley and maybe was on our future “to do” list.
In mid-March as our practices shut down on a dime, the recognition we needed to work remotely became very real. We along with the rest of the community tackled the use of video with vigor. As a resilient group, we became proficient in Zoom, WebEx , Go to Meeting, Microsoft Teams, Google Groups and so many more online video conferencing platforms almost overnight. Once we began to conquer the technology of online and video conferencing, we faced immediate privacy issues as we learned about Zoom bombing. We switched out of Zoom and tried other vendors. We quickly considered the ethical, privacy and confidentially issues of using these mediums. We confronted the continued concern of who is the client, as children and grandchildren set up their family elders to use these new video conference tools. We often met with the elder and their team of family videographers. We had to be aware of who was “in the room” besides our client when we were on these video conferences. Was there a possibility of undue influence and did this method of communicating with our client break the attorney client privilege?
In spite of all these serious questions and concerns, we jumped into the world of videoconferencing, often without sufficient time to process these changes. We needed to respond to our clients’ COVID-driven and frantic demand to get their legal house in order. Many of us did this all while keeping our staff safe and sheltering in place. We faced this immediate challenge and now realize that video conferencing is here to stay. Can we make it a permanent and useful feature of our practice in this new normal?
During these weeks, I have enjoyed “meeting” clients online. I learned to focus on their facial expressions. I realized more quickly when they are glazing over or did not understand a concept. The small screen helped me really see them. I tried not to be distracted by their room background, any clutter or noise, the poor lighting, the ill positioning of their camera which cut off their face, the occasional zoom bombing by their pet, their child, their spouse or some other distraction. It is all part of the medium and no one was an expert.
As I viewed my clients on the screen, I realized they were also watching me. Did I present distractions too? I did not want my presentation to be affected by any negative aspects of my video production or poor performance. I needed to focus on not only the information I was giving, but also how I was presenting it. It was not enough to provide the video conference call option, but it had to be good. I realized they expected me to be professional and competent, especially if this was our first meeting. My first impression mattered. I began to prepare for these video meetings with much more care. I could no longer see them as casual encounters, but these calls could possibly become the lifeblood of my practice now and in the future.
I have outlined a few steps I have taken to enhance my video conferencing capabilities and hopefully my clients’ experience of the video conference with our firm.
1. I preface each client meeting by preparing a client data memo gleaned from the information supplied in his or her initial contact and intake. Time permitting, I email the memo to the client in advance asking if these facts were correct and if they had anything to further add to make the upcoming meeting more productive. I assure them that we would catch up on other additional facts at the meeting. The video client is often more technology savvy and find emailing easy and helpful. This pre-meeting interaction prepares me and establishes a baseline of information. A secondary benefit, I will not need to look down frequently to take notes and I can keep eye contact with the client. When I do take notes I make sure my pad was ready at eye level so there was less need to look down. Looking into the camera for eye contact is important especially at the start of the meeting. Try not to look away, up, or down… even though you feel like you are constantly staring at yourself.
2. I then focused on the room background behind me, what would show up in the camera view? I noticed that all the “at home” newscasters opted for bookcases filled with prestigious books. I did not have such a setting and nor room in my house for prestigious books. I also did not have a wall of awards or mementos on display attesting to my expertise. To select a location, I actually walked around my house with my laptop in order to check out the lighting and background options. With computer in hand, I learned direct natural light was best for the clarity of the screen shot. Light was best when it was in front of you and the camera, not at your back. Back light washes you out. Unfortunately, for me the perfect light was in the front entry room of my house with lots of natural light, but the computer reception was poor and the noise level of the street was unpredictable (ambulance sirens did not add the right mood!). I live in a floor through Brooklyn apartment in an attached house, so natural light was precious and sometimes rare. No worries, there is a substitute for Mother Nature, a natural day light circular ring light made especially for video bloggers. I now am among the ranks of video experts that can position a ring lamp to eliminate shadows on my face or a dark screen. The prices range for this type of light from $18.99 on up. I spent $49.99 for a home streaming light on a tripod and with a cellphone holder in the tripod for filming. I am certain to position the lamp off screen to my side. Before I received my fancy ring lamp with its three kind of light tones, I took a gooseneck desk lamp and directed the light up at the ceiling to create daylight. It worked well. In picking my location for my video “studio”, I opted to use my son’s vacated small bedroom for both my home office and as my video “studio”. The small wall desk was perfect for the laptop computer perch and the red dark background wall made a good contrast for my dark hair. I hung a fun BROOKLYN poster to establish my identity and placed some “lovely” family photos (mostly grandchildren) on the dresser behind me. I felt comfortable that the atmosphere in that room and the backdrop signaled caring, but was not cluttered or distracting. I angle the camera to leave out the mess of files on the floor of my new catchall home office. We had considered buying “GY Law” poster sheets to prop up in the background, but frankly I ran out of time to do and the time just passed. I may consider it for the future especially for future webinars and professional development video events. For clients I chose the “homey” look. Therefore, I have my data, my place, my lighting, my computer (I use a laptop Microsoft Surface Pro) and I was good to go. I do about three of these intake conferences a day and they have proven to be effective in engaging clients who have retained our firm.
3. Next, Reluctantly I had to concentrate on me. This was the hardest part. Cameras are naturally friendly to some types of facial types and personalities, and these people easily thrive in front of the camera… some of us have to coax the camera to like us. I could not trade myself in or buy a better version of me on the internet, which might be more effective on camera. I was stuck with my looks, my quirky facial expressions, my fuzzy hair and how I frequently talked using my hands. I had to work on getting the camera to show me in its best light. I learned quickly that when I gestured on a Zoom call, my hands were closer to the camera than the rest of me. The perspective made them very big, odd, and clumsy. What might have been demonstrative in person was definitely a negative on the zoom camera. Instead of adding to the message, my hands detracted. It is a challenge to keep an Italian’s hands still. You need to watch yourself and discover your idiosyncrasies or less flattering behaviors. Have you noticed the professional broadcasters sit very still on camera? Head forward, shoulders straight, eyes ahead. They move very little and now I know why. The camera magnifies movement, which is not a benefit in this close up medium. I try to find a comfortable position, resist adjusting my seat, and concentrate on communicating with the client. The fidgeting communicates discomfort and it will not put the client at ease and is not the message I want to project.
4. I adjust my screen in advance so I fill the screen (it also eliminated the worry about background), make sure my entire face is on screen, and do not cut off your mouth and lips… I sometimes can cut off the top of my hairline (some say that is artistic and it hides a bad hair day). Experiment, find your better side… you do have one, and then favor it. Do take the time to look your best, just like a regular office day. I know we are at home and some degree of dress down is acceptable, but if I want to charge my hourly billing rate for this client conference, I need to project a professional and well turned out look. If anyone knows me, I will make sure my signature red lipstick is on. I will wear clothing that is simple and does not distract but does express my style. It is worth repeating that these first impressions remain very important. Show your client that they are important enough for you to be professionally dressed and prepared to provide excellent service.
5. I also learned by experimenting that the placement of the computer matters for your best look. Raise camera on your desk to bring the cameras at your eye level or above. The camera looking up at on you is not flattering. Have you noticed the classic “selfie” technique is to raise the phone above your head and angle it down to take the picture? Think of this experience as a giant selfie but it will often last over an hour. I also try not to move in and out of the camera range. I especially avoid leaning in and getting close to the lens. This distorts the picture; suddenly my nose is huge or my eyes will bulge. More warnings of staying still. I find looking at myself for any extent of time very trying. I see all my facial faults and hear my urban accent. We can be very self-critical and it takes discipline to resist the urge to fix ourselves while on cameras…smooth your hair, sit up straighter, move the chair, rearrange the desk, or straighten our clothing all while the camera observes and projects the images. Do it before and try to accept your looks. If there is something that could improve your looks do it, fix it. Try something new. Hire a coach to help you be comfortable on camera and learn some techniques, I bet there are many out of work actors who could provide you with some excellent tips. We are going to be using video for the duration of this pandemic, and I predict permanently. We will be required to be on camera from now on, so we have to learn to have the camera like us. Video is here to stay. Consider video training and coaching as an investment in your practice and a necessary business expense.
Adapting to the use of video in our practice will be an ongoing learning experience. NAELA will continue to offer these practice tips in the use of video in our practice. Look for future articles in the NAELA News and webinars on using video technology and online tools to transform our practices.
In these changing and uncertain times, we as elder law and special needs planning attorneys can and should take full advantage of the public’s new acceptance of these digital tools as a way to continue to provide our legal services in a safe and cost-effective manner. Future articles will include the following topics:
1. A comparison of available video platforms …. The pros and cons and the costs. Making the most of your investment in video programing.
2. How to use video to execute documents remotely. Should remote signing be a permanent option? What can we learn from the COVID experience in states in which virtual signing and remote executions were permitted.
3. Addressing the ethical considerations, privacy and confidentiality in using video as means to communicate with clients.
4. Can Zoom and other video conferencing methods be a preferred option to market to clients, referrals sources, professionals and the general consumer? How to get your practice ready on line prime time!