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Graphics and animations have long been a big part of high-stakes personal injury and intellectual property litigation. Often there’s no better way to show a jury or judge how a collision happened or how a new electric toothbrush differs from others on the market. New York’s Fish & Neave knows this as well as anyone. About a decade ago, the intellectual property boutique decided to set up an in-house graphics department. The firm bought up high-end equipment and hired a small team of animation experts. At the time, the idea was unheard of. So nobody at Fish & Neave had through-the-roof expectations for its experiment. “We certainly weren’t wedded to the idea,” recalls current managing partner Jesse Jenner. “It was just something we wanted to try. We wanted to see if it would work.” It did. Today, the department boasts six full-time employees. Its state-of-the-art graphics have appeared at trials all over the country. And the department’s modest annual costs — the price of a few associates — are totally recouped through client billings. In recent years, the firm has even turned a “slight profit” on the venture, according to Jenner. Fish & Neave attorneys like the flexibility and reliability the department affords. Matthew Shriver, an award-winning animation expert and the department’s first hire back in 1992, sits only a few floors below most of the Fish attorneys. So it’s easy for the attorneys to fine-tune animations up until the moment they’re shown at trial. And over the years, Shriver has learned a great deal about patents and patent litigation. “Of course, I don’t know nearly as much as the lawyers,” he says, “but [I] have a pretty good idea of what type of stuff should go into a video for a Markman hearing.” The point isn’t lost on Fish & Neave attorneys. “We all have a lot of respect for Matt,” says partner Laurence Rogers. “We’re used to his style and trust him completely.” To date, only Denver’s Holland & Hart has set up a graphics department as comprehensive as Fish & Neave’s (Holland & Hart has branded its department “Persuasion Strategies” and offers its services to other law firms). So why hasn’t the “in-sourcing” trend caught on nationwide? For one thing, the outside vendor market is well developed. Companies like TrialGraphix Inc., FTI Consulting Inc., DecisionQuest and Z-Axis Corp. have offices in major cities around the country and have cultivated a Starbucks-like reputation for putting out consistent, respectable products. John Gartman, the managing partner of Fish & Richardson’s San Diego office, has no plans to build an internal animation department. Gartman feels the most talented animators will always prefer to work for outside vendors, because they stand to hit it big if their companies do well. Gartman also likes that outside animators are consistently exposed to what other firms are doing. “A lot of their insights come from their varied experiences,” he says. “And that’s part of what you pay for.” And some outside providers have shown they’ll go the extra mile for their best law firm clients. Take Legal Arts Communication LLC, a San Diego-based litigation graphics company. About seven years ago, Legal Arts showed the utmost in loyalty by moving into the same building as one of its heaviest users, Palo Alto, Calif.’s Gray Cary Ware & Freidenrich. “It’s a good setup,” says James Gripp, Legal Arts’ founder and president. “We improved our relationship with Gray Cary without totally giving up our autonomy.” Janet Craycroft, a senior litigation attorney at Intel Corp., thinks that developing a close relationship with an outside vendor is the best way to go. “With so much talent and expertise outside, I’d be hesitant to use [a firm's own department],” she says. Still, the Fish & Neave brass stands by its department. “We’ve used a lot of the top vendors,” says Jenner, “and Matt Shriver’s as good as they get.” And not everyone is so quick to criticize Fish & Neave’s venture, especially given that it makes money. For example, Washington, D.C.’s Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner uses an outfit called Northern Virginia Graphics Inc. for its most complicated animations. But Christopher Foley, the firm’s managing partner, concedes he’s intrigued by Fish & Neave’s approach. “If they’re creating more billable projects and positioning the department as a revenue center, well, that makes a lot of sense.” Legal Arts’ Gripp thinks that all the conveniences of an in-house staff can usually be found elsewhere. Still, he concedes that in-house arrangements can work. “There are obstacles to doing it, but if you find the right people, it can succeed,” he says. “It’s really all about finding the right people.” The right people, like Shriver, are hard to find. But even with them, proponents like Foley face the tall task of convincing management committees to change the status quo. And often that requires a lot more than a flashy 3D video.

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