A couple of years ago during the course of a conversation with a Munich-based colleague it was mentioned to me that he was involved in a large insurance case that was going to litigation in London. He would be appearing in the High Court in London in support of his English colleagues (or vice versa). He also let it slip that he was going to get himself a new suit for the occasion because there was going to be a lot of publicity and he would certaintly be photographed or appear on televison. I was a bit amazed as to his certainty of such instant media fame. After all, insurance law is not exactly a subject known for attracting great media publicity. And it is hardly a matter of urgent public interest when groups of barristers acting for competing insurance companies argue fine points of law in court. I therefore asked him why he was so sure that he would be put in the public spotlight in a few days. His reply was that both the solicitor and barrister in London had told him on the phone that on the first day the hearing would most certainly be “on (sic) camera.”
I made no comment in response. I did not want to deprive my colleague of the excitement and a new suit nor did I want to take away a potential customer from Savile Row. But I feared that my colleague would not become so famous in a few days. He had simply met yet another linguistic false friend. I was sure (and this later proved to be correct) that the case would was not to be heard “on camera” but “in camera.”
In a legal context the term “in camera” usually means “in (the judge’s) chambers” (camera = chambre or room) or, excluding the public and press, in private. Much to my colleagues disappointment, the phrase has nothing to do with cameras and he found himself squashed into a small room with a judge and a group of lawyers.
But perhaps my colleague should not give up so quickly on his potential career in front of a larger audience. The Amercian Bar Association (ABA) currently offers a book entitled “Acting Skills for Lawyers”) on its website (http://shop.americanbar.org/eBus/Store/ProductDetails.aspx?productId=137291741). This book may prove useful just in case a camera does turn up when you next appear as a lawyer! Then you will indeed be on camera!