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Once a lawyer decides that the facts of a case require a technological form of demonstrative evidence, the first hurdle to be faced is knowing what is possible with current technology. Thumb through the brochures; inspect the Web sites. A cursory examination of local and national law technology companies reveals that they tend to make the same essential pledge: to deliver the magic, to deck the attorney in Prospero’s robes. But there is a Catch-22 in shopping for trial technology: A lawyer cannot ask a legal presentation provider if its methods are technologically current if the lawyer himself does not know what is on the market and what has been, literally, trial tested. TECHNOLOGY AND ANXIETY Too many lawyers associate these words as if they were twin hooves on the same beast. Few lawyers are familiar even with PowerPoint, which has been corporate America’s standard presentation support software for at least the last five years. Only recently have a few law schools begun to incorporate the use and techniques of presentation-support software into their curricula. PowerPoint is a relatively inexpensive, off-the-shelf commercial product that turns a computer into a digital slide projector. The slides that it projects are not slides in the traditional photographic sense but, rather, electronic images created and stored on a computer’s hard drive. PowerPoint can create text outlines with bullet points, pie charts, bar graphs and drawings. It can also import data from Word and Excel files. PowerPoint’s advantage for a trial lawyer stems from the purpose lying at the heart of all demonstrative evidence: It can help create a shared conceptual universe with the jury, one that transcends private interpretations. This universe cannot be injected en masse into the jury’s mind but, rather, must be introduced one element at time. PowerPoint has a “build slide” function that allows a slide to begin with the first major bullet point and — on the user’s command — show more bullet points on the same screen as the presentation builds in tempo. This keeps the jury focused on each element as it is presented because the other elements remain off-screen until it is their turn. Because running back and forth to a computer might interfere with a narrative’s flow, veteran PowerPoint users often prefer a hand-held, remote-control mouse, such as GyroPoint by Gyration. The decision to use a wireless, hand-held mouse might seem a small one, but such small choices can spell the difference between a computer’s being friend or foe. PowerPoint is indeed easy to use and learn — and it has some digital video support — but an attorney who wants to synchronize video depositions or animations with scrolling, highlighted text must reach out to a specialized branch of software. The general public was first introduced to this technology during the O.J. Simpson trial, when inVzn Development Corp. got a chance to tout its CD-ROMs, wands, bar-codes and light pens as the “paperless” trial-presentation system of the future. There are now several providers of this specialized technology — such as Sanction by Verdict Systems, TrialDirector by inData and TrialPro by IDEA Inc. The products vary, but the basic concept remains: documents, photos, videos or other pieces of evidence are digitized, keyed with identifying bar-codes and stored on a CD-ROM for later retrieval. Just one CD-ROM primed for a trial presentation can hold about 20,000 pages of text or two hours of video deposition. A lawyer then can print out the list of identifying bar-codes, so that when a piece of digitized evidence needs to be displayed on screen, the lawyer simply passes a wireless wand over an index of documents containing the evidence’s corresponding bar-code. Once a document is on screen, the lawyer can zoom in and highlight specific text and image details. This technology allows the real-time synchronization of a video deposition with its transcript, so that the text scrolls like movie credits as the deposition plays. No more fumbling through several videotapes for just the right clip. No more “hang time” between exhibits. But how to get evidence into this digitized format? There’s the rub. GOT HARDWARE? The proliferation of technology throughout the workplace has made muscular computers almost as ubiquitous as liquid paper, so most law firms, whether they know it or not, probably already have the basic hardware needed for using trial-presentation software. For example, documents can be digitized with a simple office scanner. On the other hand, transferring VHS video onto a CD-ROM requires not only an extremely robust computer, but also a CD burner, a special “video capture card” and video-editing software. These items and the instructions on how to use them are rarely standard issue with the common desktop PC, so most of the major makers of trial presentation software try to bridge this gap by offering full software, hardware and training packages, which can cost as much as $24,000. Many large law firms that invest in this software create a separate in-house department staffed by computer-literate professionals. The persuasive power of synchronized video and text depositions is undeniable, but if a lawyer wants to incorporate familiar demonstrative allies — such as blueprints, timelines, infographics and illustrations — into a digitized, multimedia presentation that is fully interactive, then a shrink-wrapped trial presentation product alone will not be enough. Such a presentation requires another type of specialized software, not to mention the esoteric design and programming knowledge needed to tame it. For this reason, even the most wired lawyer will gladly hire a legal-graphics company when a case requires a piece of forensic animation or a 3-D recreation. Also, for this reason, most lawyers tend to think of providers of legal graphics as a kind of mystical Lourdes, a place where abstract facts are dipped into a hidden, electronic pool and emerge on the other side as concrete visuals. But if the legal profession can develop a basic understanding of the high-tech tools of the trade, then it will be better prepared to tell a client’s story in the most compelling and cost-effective fashion. WHAT DIMENSIONS? If the facts of a case involve a dynamic or abstract event, but do not require three dimensions to visualize it, then the preferred animation tool is a Macromedia product called Flash. A Flash canvas is a 2-D environment where objects can be given movement and the illusion of depth, but the axis or “camera angle” tends to remain fixed. This is not necessarily a limitation because there are many cases in which only a lateral or “top-down” point of view is needed to observe a recreated event. Recreating an event in two dimensions rather than three (when possible) can minimize computer hours and therefore lower costs. Because the Flash format allows for full interactivity, it is the perfect format for creating interactive timelines, in which a simple mouse-click on a name or date can reveal a detailed record of events that led up to an incident. Flash does not have a physics engine, however, which can calculate the relationships between mass and velocity. This could provoke evidentiary objections in cases in which exact measurements of time and distance are necessary. That kind of accuracy usually requires a program that can animate an object in all three dimensions. The creation of a 3-D computer model from scratch can require the patience of Penelope. Need to illustrate how two vervical vertebrae have been fused by a fixation device? Better plan ahead. It could take months for a single animator to model accurately a spine in all three dimensions. And the final cost? That depends on many factors, but there is a direct correlation between detail and the computer time needed to create it. For this reason, even the most competent design studio, when pressed for time, will buy a prebuilt “wireframe” computer model from an outside provider, such as Viewpoint Digital. Another way to reduce costs and computer time is to use a 3-D program that has pre-made models moving in only specified parameters. One such program is PC-Crash. PC-Crash is a vehicular-collision and trajectory program designed by MacInnis Engineering. It allows impacts between vehicles or between vehicles and solid objects to be simulated in a full 3-D environment. The database contains information on a long list of vehicles sold in North America since 1972, including semi-trucks. PC-Crash’s physics engine is intricately designed, so an expert witness can input such variables as a vehicle’s steering radius, suspension and tire parameters, and braking distance. Scene information can be recreated within the program or it can be imported from an outside source, such as a photograph or line drawing. With the right video card, the animation can be transferred to VHS. GET IT IN PRINT But what if a piece of 3-D evidence needs to be tangible as well as illustrative? A recent technological development has pierced the thick membrane that separates a computer-video image from the “real world.” This development is a three-dimensional printer that can quite literally create, layer-by-layer, starch-based solid objects. Zcorp, a rapid-prototyping developer, has created a commercial printer that can inexpensively produce solid, nontoxic, 3-D objects as large as 10 inches by eight inches by eight inches. With this new technology, any geometric model — such as a digitized medical scan or an engineering blueprint — can be not only rendered into a 3-D computer model, but also printed out as a life-size replica. The legal profession’s traditionally glacial approach to new technology must eventually thaw. To be truly representative of the needs of society, the bar must learn to adapt to emerging technologies. Technology will never be a substitute for an attorney’s masterful narrative, but it can be at times the best tool for helping lawyers tell their courtroom stories. James B. Pepe is an editor/designer at Miami’s Allison Legal Graphics Group, a provider of legal graphics and custom-made multimedia interactive presentations. He can be reached at [email protected]

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