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Last winter, Houston lawyer Gerald Johnson III tried a case on behalf of the families of seven men killed in a Louisiana oil field explosion. Unfortunately, the work that went into the trial was wasted. After a five-day deliberation, the jury hung. Before the retrial, Johnson rethought his strategy. During the first trial, he had felt rushed. There hadn’t been enough time to show a lot of good, videotaped deposition testimony. So, for the retrial, Johnson turned to technology. He relied on TrialDirector, an application made by the Gilbert, Ariz.-based inData Corp. TrialDirector and rival products, Sanction (made by Verdict Systems of Tempe, Ariz.) and LiveNote and VideoNote (made by LiveNote Technologies of Philadelphia) are what is known as trial presentation software — software that make it easy to display exhibits at trial. Johnson boned up on TrialDirector, then let it fly for the retrial. “It was unbelievably helpful,” he says. Proof positive: The jury awarded Johnson’s clients $14.7 million. “I can’t say for sure whether it won the case for us,” he says, “but I’d never before been able to squeeze in so much good video in so short a time.” With TrialDirector and Sanction software, litigators load all of their trial exhibits onto a computer hard drive. (LiveNote and VideoNote are best at handling transcripts.) And then the magic begins. Lawyers can organize, edit and manipulate (in the best sense of the word) exhibits in ways once unimaginable. Once the exhibits are loaded, it’s a snap to call one of them up through the keyboard or through a simple bar-code system. From there, with a point and a click of the mouse, lawyers can show the exhibits on a computer screen or through a projector. And that’s what these programs offer — a way to keep sheaves of paper and clunky VHS tapes out of the courtroom. It might not seem like a monumental advance, but the programs afford flexibility. “[Microsoft Corp.'s] PowerPoint is very useful,” says Thomas Zieman Jr., a partner at Mobile, Ala.’s four-lawyer Zieman, Speegle, Jackson & Hoffman. “But PowerPoint is a slide show. That has limitations.” Sanction and TrialDirector, he says, “are capable of a lot more.” The scripted nature of a PowerPoint slide show, for instance, makes it well-suited for direct examinations and opening arguments. The flexibility of TrialDirector and Sanction, on the other hand, makes them perfect for cross-examinations — when documents often need to be conjured up right away. Trial presentation software has been around since the mid-1980s (inData brought out its first product, a precursor to TrialDirector, in 1986), but lofty prices kept many litigators from taking the plunge. But the latest versions of both applications run around $600. And with a functional projector and laptop, any lawyer from Bakersfield to Boston can transform the courtroom into his own central command center. Litigators of all shapes and sizes are catching on. InData estimates that, since the first version of TrialDirector came out in 1996, it has sold more than 20,000 copies of the software package. In the fall of 2000, Verdict Systems licensed Sanction to the Department of Justice. Now every U.S. Attorney has access to the software. Robert Jordan, a partner at Washington, D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson, says the movement will be spurred by the ever-growing number of “technology courtrooms” equipped with projectors, extra electrical outlets and the like. “Individual judges are also warming up to the technology,” he adds, “and of course, that always makes you feel more comfortable using it.”

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