March 01st, 2021
By now we’ve all seen it so often that we are probably sick and tired of it: the bewildered lawyer on the court Zoom call who is stuck appearing as a cat, while insisting to the judge “I’m not a cat.” By the time that you are reading this we will likely have all moved on to some new Internet meme to obsess over instead.
But there is a larger lesson for lawyers here. We are nearly a year into this Pandemic, that has wreaked havoc on the way we all work. Yet far too many lawyers have failed to adapt to these changes. It’s time for us to change that.
Now, that all might seem harsh, particularly when the lawyer in question has become the target of far too many jokes. We would note that at least the lawyer, Rod Ponton, from Texas, has shown a
certain resigned sense of humor about the whole thing:
“At first I was worried about it,” Ponton, 69, told The Washington Post on Tuesday, “but then I realized as it was going viral if the country could take a moment to laugh at my cat moment at my expense, I’ll take it. We’ve had a stressful year.”
The judge presiding over the hearing, Judge Roy Ferguson of the 394th Judicial District Court also has also shown a good sense of humor over the incident. In fact, every one of the links we posted above about the jokes over the incident comes straight from the Judge’s own Twitter feed! I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised for a judge whose Twitter pic seems to be him doing his best impression of Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark.
Mr. Ponton has told the press that he was using his secretary’s computer at the time, and that everything had been fine in the Zoom waiting room before the case was called – and then he turned into a cat. The explanation for all has been that one of his admin’s children must have turned on the filter while they were using the computer beforehand. Fortunately for Mr. Ponton everything seems to have worked out well this time.
Not every judge has a similar sense of grace over even something like this, that ultimately turned out to be a minor problem. Far too many articles have been written in ABA publications, the mass media, and even law journal articles about bad-tempered, “bullying” judges. Let’s all be clear, this could have gone worse, much worse, for the attorney involved. It would have gone even worse for his client, had their case been impacted by this mistake.
And let’s all also be clear that this was a mistake, and one that did not need to happen. Free Zoom training is readily available in live and recorded sessions. More importantly, a lawyer should not be relying upon a secretary’s computer, and most certainly not on a computer being used by children. Lawyers have a duty to protect confidential client information. Working on the same computer as your secretary’s kids seems like a rather poor way to meet that duty, especially when you can buy a brand new laptop for under $500 . . . or just buy the kids their own Chromebook for under $100.
The UK newspaper The Guardian titled an article about this incident “The joy of ‘Lawyer Cat’ is that it teaches us nothing – it’s just very funny.” They are right that it is very funny. But they are wrong in that there are no lessons to be taught. In fact, “lawyer cat” teaches us a very important lesson: the time to adopt the right technology is not just now, it was yesterday, before you needed it.
We are nearly a year into this Pandemic. While it looks like the end may be in sight (we can all hope!), some things are not going back to “normal.” The remote work genie is out of the bottle, and it’s never going back in.
If you are still “on the fence,” “kicking the tires,” or “thinking about” how to get your legal team organized and on the same page for every matter no matter where they are working, the time to act is now. We can’t save you from becoming “lawyer cats” but we can save you from a lot of lost time and frustration – yours and maybe your clients – over communicating and collaborating with your team from anywhere. Its all funny, very funny, when you start looking like cats on Zoom, but not funny at all when your team is missing documents or even deadlines because the sneakernet system you set up years ago stopped working last year.
The time for working efficiently and effectively with remote legal teams is here and it is not going away. It’s time for lawyers – and “lawyer cats” to get on board.
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