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Today, law firms can benefit greatly from implementing an internally controlled trial technology solution by purchasing the necessary hardware and software to use in the courtroom and by training appropriate staff in the use of these systems. Obviously, there is an economic investment that a firm must consider when evaluating whether to undertake a project of this nature. Acquiring the personnel to help coordinate the technical side of such a project is perhaps the most important step in the process. Not all firms have the internal resources to accomplish this, nor do they have the desire to create a new position for such a person. In that case, there are several reputable trial support companies across the United States that can assist the firm in its use of technology in the courtroom. In this article, we assume that the firm can employ a trial support coordinator with the experience and technical knowledge to assist the trial teams. Despite the availability of courtroom technology, most trial lawyers still present exhibits to juries the old-fashioned way: holding them up, handing documents to jurors and using blow-ups. This no longer is the best way to present evidence, particularly in document-intensive cases. Years ago, when courtroom technology was new, many lawyers did not want to use it at trial because they were afraid of glitches that might cause disruptions in the proceedings. Things have changed greatly with the advance of technology. Now, as the witness testifies and examines a document, the exhibit is retrieved from the system via a swipe of a bar code and is projected to the jury. Bar codes function here just as they do in the grocery store, and this technology is being performed every day with very few malfunctions. Bar codes allow trial lawyers immediately to locate and display exhibits. Trial exhibits are stored either on CD-ROM or on a computer’s hard drive. If an attorney needs an exhibit, he or she can quickly retrieve it, show it to the jury and replay it at any time. While the use of trial technology may not be beneficial for cases with only a few documents, it is extremely beneficial for long trials in which the lawyers and paralegals have trouble keeping up with all of the exhibits. A single computer, usually a laptop, can be set up in the courtroom and evidence can be displayed on monitors or screens located in the courtroom. This evidence may include scanned exhibits, videotaped testimony, computer animation and other demonstratives. With a single bar code swipe the evidence appears for the bench. Counsel then may draw attention to important aspects of the evidence by zooming in or panning to the desired spot and then highlighting, annotating or redacting parts of the evidence. Displaying a document to the jury as it is being explained speeds up the trial and enhances the jury’s comprehension of the testimony. The jury’s attention can be focused on the examining attorney’s presentation rather than some other document that may be in a trial notebook. PUTTING ZEBRAS TO WORK How does it all work? Original exhibits are scanned and imported into the system and each exhibit is assigned a bar code. All of the bar codes are recorded, with an accompanying description, on a separate index or notebook. When the exhibit is needed at trial, the attorney swipes the index with the bar code wand or gun, and the system retrieves the exhibit and projects it onto the display devices positioned around the courtroom. In a complicated trial, in which attorneys use computers, exhibits can be managed and stored on CDs or hard drives. If the original document is needed, it should also be available at trial. There is much to consider when the trial date is approaching and the decision has been made to use technology in court to help present the case. Who sets up the equipment before trial? The coordinator should set up the system in the courtroom and break it down after the trial. He or she will make sure that the system is tested and that every cable is properly connected and out of the way of pedestrian traffic. Once this is accomplished, the courtroom lawyer will find the system not only easy to use, but also neatly out of the way and not a burden to any court personnel. Who should operate the system during the trial? The coordinator should be working with the trial team as the case is being prepared so that this person is familiar with how the case will be presented. The coordinator should operate the system during the proceedings whenever possible. This person will be the most familiar with the system and will know how to react if any problems arise. Many times, though, the attorney would prefer to be the operator of the system in case unexpected changes in the line of questioning arise during the trial. In general, trial presentation software allows the scripting of the order in which the system will display evidence or other demonstratives during questioning and the attorney may be better prepared to change that order if the need arises. It takes about 10 minutes for a technically illiterate lawyer to learn how to use a bar code reader. There is nothing sophisticated about it. The software is relatively intuitive and typically is very simple to use. After a short practice session, the lawyer will realize that he or she can use the system at trial and will wonder why it took so long to realize what a great asset it is in presenting cases. When should lawyers use technology in court? It may not make sense to use technology in a small case with a minimum number of exhibits or video testimony. On the other hand, even if only a few hundred exhibits are at issue, how the case will be tried should be evaluated. If computers are used during trial, the system will allow an attorney to retrieve the relevant exhibit quickly and effortlessly. If a large amount of videotaped testimony will be used, bar code retrieval of those video clips is also quick and effortless. The amount and use of exhibits and/or video testimony is the most important issue to evaluate when deciding whether to use technology at trial. GET COORDINATED Should one seek the help of technical people? If the use of technology is the logical choice for a case, use technical people to assist. Trial coordinators with technical experience are invaluable. They know what a trial lawyer needs and have the ability to translate those needs into appropriate trial presentations. They will work with the trial team to put the presentation together and will teach the team what to do at trial. A 10-minute lesson on exhibit retrieval will erase any fear of technical complications at trial. Depending on the complexity of the presentation, technical assistance at trial to handle any unexpected glitches also makes sense. Just having the technically proficient coordinator in the room will be a great reassurance to the trial team in the unlikely event of technical problems or difficulties. Frequently, legal assistants can fill that role economically and efficiently. The lead attorney just needs to make sure that the technical person properly trains the legal assistant. The legal assistant can calmly and appropriately deal with typical system problems. These are the same legal assistants who frequently oversee the litigation support systems in law firms used to prepare for trial. Learning how to solve minor glitches that can occur with courtroom technology should be just one more job that legal assistants become capable of handling. A major expense in undertaking a project such as the implementation of trial technology is the cost of the computer equipment for courtoom use. The firm’s information technology (IT) employees, paralegals and litigators should analyze the firm’s needs. A good rule of thumb is to start small and build upon the system, as everyone becomes more experienced and familiar with the technology. Keep in mind that not all courtrooms are the same — in fact, most differ quite a bit. Some courts, typically newer ones, might already have the necessary equipment in the courtroom. If not, law firms should provide the court with a monitor that is integrated into the presentation system. The amount of the equipment used will be based upon the layout of the courtroom and what the court will allow the lawyers to set up. The attorney or paralegal should always have all the equipment that will be used approved by the court clerk. A good checklist of equipment should include the following: a central control system to be the conduit from the computer to the various cables and output devices; a high-resolution video projector with portable screen; two 15-inch flat-screen monitors and four 20-inch flat-screen monitors. Firms should also consider obtaining two high-quality speakers with stands; two laptop computers, so there will always be a backup if the first one crashes; and a bar code wand or gun. Other items that may prove useful are a remote mouse with laser pointer or light pen, and a “Kill Switch” that allows the judge to disconnect the signal to the displays at any time during the proceedings. With a “Kill Switch,” the judge can quickly stop video output containing evidence he or she deems inadmissible. DON’T FORGET SOFTWARE Firms will also need trial presentation software to organize and present the data on the system. There are many choices of quality software on the market today that vary in complexity as well as price. Some examples of popular trial presentation packages are Visionary, Trial Director and Sanction. Each package has its own set of pros and cons. When evaluating which software to choose, take into account what the firm uses as its litigation support database and how, if at all, it can be used in conjunction with the trial-presentation software. Most packages on the market include functionality that will allow for the importing of images, text, animation and audio/video clips. These packages should also allow some basic searching techniques and annotations. Another thing to remember as the firm goes forward with this technology is that the software will require the items that need to be imported to be in certain formats. For example, a videotaped deposition will need to be digitized and converted to MPEG format (the standard format of video and audio playback) and the exhibits typically need to be scanned and saved as Group 4 TIFF (Tagged Image File Format) files. The process of digitizing VHS tapes and the scanning of documents can be handled by a variety of service providers around the country. All of the packages on the market are very easy to learn and have the backing of experienced professionals that can assist the trial team when the need arises. The infamous O.J. Simpson trial and the more tempered Microsoft litigation both have shown that courtroom technology has a future in American trials. The general public — our source of juries — is now used to seeing computers on judges’ benches and counsel tables. It is fair to say that courtroom technology is not only here to stay, it is here for lawyers to embrace and learn to use without fear of technical difficulties. While the use of trial technology cannot by itself win a case for a firm, failing to do so could lose one. Brian Ingram is the national director of litigation support in the San Francisco office of Los Angeles’ Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker. He is a member of the National Association of Litigation Support Managers and the Bay Area Association of Litigation Support Managers, and is former president of the Atlanta Association of Litigation Managers.

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