Quite like Noah’s Ark in the book of Genesis, I had providentially carved out a law chamber space in my home. The ‘BHOK’ arrangement was well before the world was engulfed in ‘Covidosphere’. For the last year and a half, my court appearances have been through video conferencing, largely seamless, with the odd, inevitable and understandable snag. I must confess that having been in the live television news industry for a decade and a half, I’ve really not had the problem of getting acclimatized to the new normal in communication.
It’s not just hearings before the Madras High Court but virtually any court or forum anywhere – the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission in New Delhi, Arbitral Tribunals in Mumbai or Kolkatta or Pune. Then there is an endless stream of webinars with a pan India audience – be it a Toastmaster’s Club installation in Mangalore, or a contentious discussion hosted by a Law Firm in Delhi, or an awareness programme on the legal ramifications of medical negligence cases for the medical fraternity across the country. Preparation aside, all that is needed is a 20 metre dash to my desk, and a focus on appropriate attire. Formal clothing up to the bust will do, with shorts or track pants and slippers! Breakfast or lunch can be managed on the sly by switching off the video. The crumbling of geographical boundaries is just one of the many plus points about the new working style.
A 10 kilometer drive to the High Court would normally take at least half an hour in peak hour traffic. That’s now zilch. Out goes the panic of finding proper parking space. The zero-travel time and the relatively negligible broadband cost are all too obvious. Come to think of it, it’s not really work from home. Bring on the masks and it is work from anywhere – even under a shady tree.
For me, the most redeeming feature of this new format is technology induced etiquette. You can virtually raise your hand to ask a question, unobtrusively type a message in the chat box, without interrupting the speaker, mute all others, or those causing a disturbance (if only primetime tv debates used this option in their production control rooms!) and quietly leave the meeting (ignore the pop up) without having to excuse yourself or be conscripted to a whole boring session, especially if you are seated in the front row of a physical conference.
Truth be told, you can’t give the online mode a thumbs up on all counts. Technology cuts both ways. Technical glitches can prove quite costly and ruin crucial and otherwise well organised events. A power failure beyond a point or an internet disruption can spell havoc. For lawyers, a sudden audio or video disturbance during a hearing can be disastrous.
Indiscretion, recklessness or worse, can be viewed seriously. The image of a school teacher with a towel thrown over his torso, clicked ostensibly from an online class, was a piece of evidence against him in a sexual abuse case. There are bloopers galore involving my tribe – eating, wearing a vest, applying a face pack, discussing the lunch menu and even riding a bike with the camera and audio switched on during hearings! Not to forget, the challenge of stopping kids throwing tantrums or a pet from entering the frame.
An often glossed over aspect is a question mark over the integrity of the new system. A challenge for examiners and job interviewers. The screen can double up as a tele-prompter. With proper alignment, it may be hard to spot spontaneity from parroting or copying.
And the most talked about downside – boredom, monotony and the absence of those much awaited face-to-face chats and coffee break gossip sessions that a physical environment lends itself to.
For those who crib about the new ‘work from home’ culture, just thank God you have both – work and a home.
(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, Arbitrator, Columnist, Author & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)