Using Computers to Keep a Judge and Jury Interested – Articles

[Note: This is another in the series of my previously-published articles that I am reposting on my blog. This article is an oldie – earlier versions appeared in the March 23, 1998  issue of Lawyers Weekly USA and the July 1999 issue of Res Gestae. It’s a somewhat unusual article for me because I usually do not interview people and use their quotes in my articles (or on my blog) much these days. I wrote this one as one of my monthly columns for Lawyers Weekly USA, where I got the chance to work with my favorite editor, Elaine McArdle, and started to build my reputation as a writer on legal technology. I really like this article for a couple of reasons: (1) I get to quote and feature my good friends Alan Steinberg and Art Smith, two of the legal tech pioneers in St. Louis, (2) it shows how you can write about technology in ways that will have longevity, and (3) it illustrates how slo-o-o-ow the pace of change in litigation technology really is for those of you who don’t believe me when I make that statement. Most of the tips and techniques in this article from Art and Alan are still fresh and valuable today.]
Using Computers to Keep a Judge and Jury Interested
Computers continue to march from the law office into the courtroom. Currently available technology and techniques make it possible for any attorney in almost any courtroom to streamline case presentation and enhance the impact of a case on judges and jurors. Most important, these new tools are transparent enough to allow jurors to focus on the main points of your case and not on the "gee whiz" aspects of the technology.
Art Smith, of Husch & Eppenberger (over 150 attorneys), and Alan Steinberg, of Steinberg & Steinberg (two attorneys), both of St. Louis, recently completed cases in which they took advantage of technology in the courtroom. When their cases were over, they were so impressed with the technology that they wanted to share their experiences with other lawyers in the community. As Steinberg said, "this is technology that will make you money."
Smith has four important conclusions about using presentation technology in the courtroom:
1. Computer display makes it easier for jurors to see and study exhibits.
2. Presentation technology allows an attorney to focus the attention of the judge and jury on the relevant language of any exhibit.
3. Presentation software specifically designed for trials speeds the presentation of evidence.
4. You can greatly enhance the impact of your documentary evidence.
What is Trial Presentation Technology?
Trial presentation technology is simply the use of computer equipment to display presentation slides and scanned digital images of exhibits. For example, if your case involves a letter that contains incriminating evidence, you might use a scanner to create a graphic image of that letter that could then be identified, labeled and stored in a database. When it is introduced into evidence, the graphic image would be retrieved and displayed to the jury. Each juror can view it simultaneously without the need for you to pass the letter to each juror.
Hardware.
Presentation hardware can be as simple as a notebook computer running into a switch-box which displays information on separate monitors for the jury, the judge, and the attorney. Other hardware items can include a VCR for playback of video depositions and an overhead digital camera (such as the Elmo) which will allow you to display documents and even three-dimensional objects on a monitor for the judge and jury. An overhead projector might also be appropriate. Other useful hardware might include a remote control or wireless mouse, if you like to move around, and a laser pointer.
Smith’s trial was a large and lengthy one and required a fairly elaborate hardware setup. It included two 35" monitors for the jury and separate monitors for the judge, witness box and counsel. He also used a VCR for video depositions, a sound system, an Elmo overhead digital camera for displaying exhibits that were not scanned as digital images, a connection box and an uninterrupted power source. The Elmo camera has become very popular among trial lawyers since you can show documents and three-dimensional exhibits using the camera.
This setup cost $1,500 to install and remove, $300 per trial day for hardware rental, and $500 per day for technician to monitor the hardware setup. Because you can use different aspects of presentation technology, you can pick and choose software or hardware that will give you the most advantage for your case at a price you can afford. In some cases, as Smith found, your opponent may be willing to share the costs of the courtroom setup because of the advantage to both sides.
Software.

There are two types of software you might use in the courtroom: (1) Microsoft’s PowerPoint, or a similar presentation program, for your opening and closing arguments, and (2) trial display packages such as Trial Link or Trial Director, to display your exhibits and highlight or annotate important parts of those exhibits.
The trial display packages integrate well with litigation management programs like Summation or Concordance and can also be used in connection with real-time transcription software. A combination of all these packages can turn you into a techno-lawyer with your case completely digitized and at your fingertips.
Presentation Software.
You can use a presentation program, such as PowerPoint or Corel’s Presentation, for their opening and closing arguments. Presentation software allows you to prepare a set of slides which will display your main points. Graphics, sound, video clips and animation can be added to each slide. The slides can be sequenced as you wish and controlled manually or automatically by timer. The slides can be displayed from your notebook computer onto a screen or monitor or even printed out and used as handouts or transparencies.
These programs allow you to reinforce your main points by displaying them at the same time you are talking about them. You can organize, illustrate and focus your talks in a manner that is entertaining and keeps the attention of your audience. Your opening and closing can be much more effective than what you can do by reading from your notes scrawled on a legal pad. Steinberg commented that he would prefer never to do an opening or closing argument without PowerPoint again.
As an example of how you can use these slides, Smith created a slide that contained a picture of a witness along with a quote from his testimony during the trial that Smith wanted to emphasize. This slide could be used to remind the jury who the person was as well as to emphasize the remark itself.
Trial Display Software.
Trial display software allows you to display images of documents and other exhibits onto a screen or monitor. The programs have a simple, uncluttered interface and tools that allow you to highlight phrases or areas of the image. For example, you might electronically draw a red circle around an important part of a photographic image, use an electronic yellow "highlighter" to mark important phrases, annotate documents, add arrows or use other effects, such as enlarging key language, to emphasize your points. The electronic marking appears only on the display of the document not on the underlying document or file.
Two of the leading programs in this genre are Trial Link and Trial Director. Both are very impressive programs which can integrate well with other programs you might be using for trial management. You will want to look into the features of both to see which program will work best for you.
A large part of the effectiveness of this software is due to its apparent simplicity. Jurors simply see an image of an exhibit on a large monitor and then watch you emphasize phrases, enlarge key parts of exhibits or photos, and even use video and animation. This approach seems to be very effective for jurors used to getting a large portion of their information from television.
Practical pointers.
1. As Steinberg says, the most important advice is simply to "practice, practice, practice." You want to make your presentation more focused, more organized and more effective. You cannot do this if you cannot run the equipment properly or you struggle with the software. Practice until you are able to run the equipment and software smoothly. If you cannot become comfortable using equipment and software, have an assistant who runs the equipment while you do the talking.
2. Take advantage of advanced features of programs but take care not to let the features get in the way of your story. PowerPoint has a many impressive effects and graphics built into the program. Focus the jury on your case, not your visual effects and animations. Stick with fairly simple and straightforward backgrounds and effects until you are comfortable using the programs and are sure that the effects increase the impact of your presentation.
3. Backup your work. Trial presentation technology does not save paper. To prevent mishaps, you definitely will want to take a print out of all of your exhibits, presentation slides and other documents that you might use in the courtroom. You might even prepare transparencies. You will also want to have multiple backups of your data.
4. Have the same setup in your office, or "war room," as you have in the courtroom. If you set up a configuration identical to what you are using in the courtroom back in your office, you can practice under the same conditions. You will also be able to substitute an identical component from your office over a lunch break.
5. Prepare for the unexpected. When speaking, any additional element that you put into your presentation increases the opportunity for something to go wrong. If you write out your speech, you might lose the paper on which it is written. If you use transparencies, the overhead projector light bulb might burn out. If you use elaborate presentation technology, any aspect of the equipment may go wrong or you may experience one quirk or another which can throw off the pace and style of your presentation. Take extra projector bulbs, cords, batteries, transparencies and tools.
6. The client makes the call. Although you can fall in love with courtroom presentation technology, it probably makes the most sense in document-intensive cases or cases where charts and graphics will help reduce complexity. The technology probably makes more sense in longer trials than in shorter trials, although the use of PowerPoint or a similar program in openings and closings could be used in any trial. Your client, however, may be more willing to use this technology in a jury trial as opposed to a judge-tried case or may deem the cost to be prohibitive in any case. It will become a matter of educating your client and showing your client the benefits of this approach.
Conclusions.
More and more judges are become receptive to the use of technology in the courtroom and a good number of courthouses are planning to at least have one courtroom that is designed as a "courtroom of the future." Because this technology can benefit jurors in understanding cases, I expect to see more receptivity on the part of judges. There was no area hotter in legal technology than courtroom presentation technology.
Smith and Steinberg both agree that the main benefit of presentation technology is that it allows you to organize your case and control the flow of the case. By moving your case along in a steady, organized fashion, you keep the attention of the jury and present information to them in an educational and entertaining manner. Jurors seem to respond to this technology. Courtroom presentation technology can dramatically enhance the impact of your arguments, your exhibits and your case. As a result, it can give jurors a better experience with the legal system, something which will benefit all lawyers.
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[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http:///www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
This post brought to you by Dennis Kennedy’s half-day electronic discovery seminar – “Preparing for the New World of Electronic Discovery: Easing Your Transition from Paper to Electronic Discovery.” Contact Dennis today for more information and to schedule a seminar for your firm or legal department.