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Everyone knows that technology is getting faster, cheaper and easier to use. But that truism hasn’t always applied to legal software. Until recently, trial presentation software had been the exclusive domain of top 500 law firms and white-shoe boutiques. The primary reason for this has always been cost — not to mention the price of corresponding hardware, such as projectors, laptops, software and scanners. For many solos and small firms, deciding whether to take a trial high-tech was never an option. Fortunately, this has changed. Quality trial presentation software that costs less than an average deposition is available. Hardware prices have plunged, too. Scanners are available for as low as $40, power-packed laptops come in at under $4,000, and thousand-lumen projectors no bigger than a newspaper can be found in the $5,000 range when only three years ago, they cost tens of thousands of dollars. Another common misconception is that these gadgets and programs are hard to use. But today’s programs are as easy to operate as surfing the Internet, and recent technology trends have reduced hardware and software set-ups to a single action: plugging in. Basically, anyone who can use a mouse to right-click or plug a cable into a port can bring technology to a trial. What can trial presentation software do for a case? It won’t remedy bad facts or reform bad law. What it can do, however, is allow a solo or small-firm lawyer to make a more persuasive argument through visual displays and case information management. Visual displays are more effective at capturing and holding the attention of a jury, and the panel will appreciate how trial preparation software can eliminate delays caused when lawyers fumble for documents in cardboard boxes. With trial presentation software, a lawyer can manage and instantly access all the information in a case — documents, transcripts, videos, ASCII text and prior testimony. With a realtime feed from the court reporter, current testimony can also be accessed. This information can be displayed on-screen at a lawyer’s laptop or on a larger screen for the jury. Trial presentation software also lets a lawyer conduct searches using keywords, names or highlighted text. This allows a lawyer to develop case strategy and even revise it mid-trial. And most trial presentation software is designed to be used over and over; starting a new case is similar to opening a new document in Word. But knowing that it’s easier and less expensive to use trial presentation software means nothing if a solo or small-firm lawyer doesn’t know how to make an informed buying decision. Here are five things to consider when buying software to take a trial high-tech: � SUPPORT COSTS. As the company develops its software, will it offer current users technology upgrades? Will this be offered as a free service or will a lawyer have to pay for each upgrade? Also check on the availability of training. Options often include free training at the software company’s headquarters, training through a local reseller, Web-based tutorials and online manuals. � TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE. Most software companies offer technical assistance, but details vary. Some charge for each call, some offer free assistance during business hours, some sell separate technical support packages. It is important to honestly assess your technical support needs. For example, if a Texas lawyer buys software from a New York company, there may be several hours each day when technical assistance is unavailable. How will this affect the Texas lawyer’s practice? � THE WEB SITE. Every software company has a Web site — this is how many sell their products. But does the purpose of the Web site stop there? Spend a minute visiting the site of each software product under consideration. Pretend the initial purchase has already been made and see whether the site offers any additional useful information, such as short-cut tips, hardware suggestions, product news and upgrades. Most importantly, is company information such as street address, phone number and e-mail addresses easy to find? � THE COMMITMENT. With most trial presentation software, the learning curve is small, but it does exist. Learning to use the software and mastering it will take some quiet, uninterrupted time. � THE ADDICTION. Trial presentation software is a dynamic tool. Prepare to get hooked on technology. And get ready to win. Dan Bowen is the director of operations of Verdict Systems, which specializes in easy-to-use, dependable trial presentation software. Bowen welcomes comments through www.verdictsystems.com.

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