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ANALYSIS: Many Remote Lawyers Struggle to Read Body Language

Oct. 19, 2021, 7:21 PM

Remote hearings have given lawyers plenty of headaches since the pandemic started, and inhibiting their ability to read body language is one of the more problematic obstacles, a recent survey shows. However, there are steps lawyers can take to make interpreting nonverbal cues in a virtual setting a bit easier.

In Bloomberg Law’s 2021 Remote Practice Survey, 68% of respondents reported that they attended remote hearings, and most of those (84%) said they have experienced challenges with the new medium. And the majority of those who experienced challenges (59%) reported having trouble interpreting body language and facial expressions. Unsurprisingly, the only item cited more often as a challenge was technical issues.

Accurately reading body language can help lawyers succeed in hearings—but why is it so difficult to do virtually? For starters, inadequate lighting can make it difficult to detect a person’s facial expressions on camera. Even if there is enough light for a lawyer to detect these facial cues, other nonverbal cues—such as fidgeting hands, jiggling legs, or slouching body posture—can go unseen if the camera frame only includes a person’s head.

There are, however, strategies lawyers can employ to better read nonverbal cues in remote hearings:

  • Request adequate/better lighting and positioning for all parties on camera.
  • Watch hearings on a larger screen to detect nonverbal cues easier.
  • Conduct mock virtual hearings with colleagues to practice reading body language.
  • Have a colleague attend the remote hearing to help detect facial and nonverbal cues.
  • Ensure hearings are recorded to analyze body language at a later time.

Given the possibility that remote hearings are here to stay in some capacity, lawyers need to become more skilled at interpreting body language virtually. Taking steps to make this task easier will help lawyers adapt more quickly to the nature of remote practice for better results.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find more information on virtual communication on our In Focus: Remote Work page.

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