By now, you’re probably one of the 3.7 million people who’ve seen the video of a virtual court hearing in Texas that went terribly wrong for the county attorney. (If not, here it is on YouTube.) As depicted for all to see, the hapless lawyer appears on-screen as a fluffy white cat, complete with moving kitty lips as he plaintively explains to the judge that it’s a filter, and “I’m here live — I’m not a cat.”

Ethics lessons from this excruciating situation? You’ve come to the right place!

  • Technological competence. We’ve pointed out many times that Model Rule 1.1 cmt. [8] calls on lawyers to keep abreast of changes in the law, including the benefits and risks associated with relevant technology. We’ve been Zooming for a year now. Don’t let this happen to you. Get help with any tech you aren’t comfortable with — before the hearing.
  • Professionalism. I was struck by the poker faces of the kitty-lawyer’s opposing counsel. They keep their composure throughout rather than dissolving in helpless laughter at the situation. (One comes close to losing it, but still manages to keep it together.) And the judge is extremely patient. His voice never rises as he tries to walk the lawyer through how to take off the filter that has turned him into a fluffy feline. In any court disaster it’s worth remembering — there but for the grace of God go you.
  • Cats and dogs. Last, if you have to have a Zoom filter on — make it a dog, for heaven’s sake.