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Howard L. Nations makes it quite clear why he believes in technology as a litigator’s best friend. Three years ago, the 64-year-old Houston lawyer went into mediation with one of the big three U.S. automobile manufacturers on behalf of a family that claimed the car’s faulty design led to an explosion, severely burning a daughter. Nations made his entire four-hour presentation without a shred of paper. He just loaded a single CD-ROM into his computer and clicked on the thumbnail images representing everything he wanted to present. Nations clicked on the first image, and photographs appeared on screen of the crash area and the victim’s injuries. He clicked on the next one and showed all of the graphics, drawings and other demonstrative evidence. He clicked again and played videotaped-testimony of expert engineering and medical witnesses. He clicked yet again for videotape of the flaming vehicle, obtained from a local TV station. And, finally he clicked to show the “smoking gun” document. After the presentation, the car company’s representative went off with the mediator, who returned with good news and bad news. The bad news, he recalls, was that there would be no settlement made that day. The good news was that the representative needed to go back to Detroit to get more money. The real proof of the technology’s effectiveness, Nations says, is that the auto company representative asked for a copy of the CD to play for his reward-authorization committee. And sure enough, the company ended up paying a figure double its original settlement offer. That’s not the only time a defendant has come back with more money for a client, Nations says. And while ultimately he knows that his case is only as strong as the facts, he firmly believes that technology has enabled him to collect, organize, retrieve and present case information in a thorough, powerful and persuasive manner. NOT A GUN-SHY GUY Nations is an unusual catastrophic-case plaintiff’s litigator, not least because after 35 years he wants to be constantly on the cutting edge, when many of his peers are happy to do things the old-fashioned way. “They’re gun-shy about the new technology,” he says. Not Nations, whose Web site, www.howardnations.com, recently won an online magazine’s five-star “Best of the Month” award. A plain-talking Houston resident, Nations started out in the 1960s as a defense lawyer representing insurance companies. In 1971, he switched to personal injury law, which he continues to practice to this day. And for a stretch he also co-owned a medical malpractice insurance company. “So I’ve seen it from all three sides,” he says. He knows how important it is to gather and synthesize information in these cases in a way that is going to make simple sense to a layperson. First comes the information-gathering stage. Nations learned early on that electronic documents can be searched and accessed much easier than paper. So he sends literally every document out to a local scanning facility that adds a bar code to the scan. To retrieve a document he goes to an index and scans in the bar code — just like a checkout worker pulling up the price on a can of soup. Nations uses a digital camera to take all of his photos. In one recent case, in which the exact location of a car crash point of impact was critical, he happened to recognize a notation on the police report as a Global Positioning System reading. The officer verified that it was. Nations went to the scene and painted a big yellow X on the exact spot. He then walked the path the car took, taking a photograph with that digital camera every 10 feet as he came around a curve, up a hill, and finally to the yellow X. “There could have been a hell of a fight over point of impact,” Nations says. “A foot or 18 inches difference made the lawsuit.” Thanks to the GPS data, he had that cold — and thanks to the digital camera, he could flash through the driver’s approach just by connecting the camera to the computer and clicking through frame by frame. He won the verdict. For most cases, Nations can make do with a single CD, which holds some 17,000 pages. If the case has a lot of documentation, he devotes a hard drive. He has recently started using DVDs to store and retrieve high-memory graphics. In 1998, for a breach-of-contract case, he invested in a jukebox tower — a machine that literally acts like a jukebox, accessing a huge stack of CDs filled with data. DOCUMENT SHARING Nations has at times been able to participate in multiparty document access. In that scenario, documents are sent in digital form to a third party, which stores it for all authorized parties to access over the Internet, with a user ID and password. That’s especially handy in multiparty suits; otherwise lawyers would have to send copies to everyone. Fortunately, Nations says, he tends to go up against big, powerful companies like the automaker, who are well wired to handle that kind of arrangement. He runs into more problems sharing documents with other plaintiffs’ attorneys, as in a current securities case. Companion cases against the same defendant are taking place in California, Florida and Illinois, he says, and he would certainly like to be able to share materials easily with each of those litigators. “There are a lot of [litigators] who have not gotten used to this kind of thing yet,” he says. Creating a presentation video synthesizing all of this information, for a jury or mediator, is Nations’ favorite part of the process. He is believed to be the first litigator to use computer-generated graphics in a presentation — a roller-coaster re-enactment which so impressed the judge that as soon as the jury went to deliberate he asked Nations for all the details as to how it was made. Nations has used computer-generated animation and cell animation re-enactment in front of a blue screen, 3-D software modeling, digitizing of scanned images and even claymation for his videos. “We’ve raised the day-in-the-life film to an art form,” he boasts. They range from somewhat clunky, flat-looking scenes to incredibly detailed films, with slow-motion replays, multiple angles and precise labeling. Watching the videos, the viewer can immediately understand how a fire spread, how a car flipped, how stress was distributed on an airplane hull or how a piece of equipment failed to operate. Nations cannot hide his pride in these films, but he insists they are more than just attention-getting video games. “It’s all communication-friendly, so you can tell your story with ease.” Most of his clips cost him in the range of $3,000 to $5,000 — a lot less than his first one, which cost $8,000 per real-time second. Determining how much to spend is a difficult call, he says. He starts from an estimate of expected damages. “That’s the first thing — what’s your case worth?” Then he looks at how complicated the material is to grasp. “When I have cases that I think I can get the same return with a PowerPoint presentation I’ll do that, because it costs the client nothing,” Nations says. “We don’t spend a lot of money just to do it for no reason.” BUILDING A COURTROOM Nations is right now building a full-scale courtroom onto his law office for focus-group testing, which he does for every case he tries. The mock courtroom will be fully wired and linked, of course, but will also come complete with remote-controlled cameras. Off in a separate control room, not intruding on the proceedings at all, his video editors will control the camera angles and edit on the spot. And finally, when Nations comes to court, he is a veritable walking IT department. He brings a computer, VCR, projector, scanner, digital camera and 35-inch television — not as large as he could, but he believes that a big-screen display might seem too slick. “We all gather information every day from a television,” he says. He totes a visual presenter that costs around $1,400. This not only handles all of the visual presentation of his images off the computer, but can also grab freeze-frame images and print them out for the jury to have as they deliberate. “When the jury is not going to watch the whole video again, you can at least give them the images you want them to look at.” He also likes to capture images throughout the trial onto a small disk that holds 50 images. “We use it in our closing argument — the exact images they saw on the screen.” Perhaps his most useful piece of in-court equipment is an editing board that allows him to switch among these different media. In fact, with that board he can offer split-screen images — showing a video on half the screen while displaying a related document beside it, for instance. One time, he showed an original of a document and a version obtained from the defendant side by side to show how it had been tampered with. The image stayed on the screen during the witness’s entire testimony, reminding the jury that they could not trust her. “It’s the testimony that keeps on testifying,” Nations says, recalling the impact of the image. Of course, technology can have its downside. “Everybody’s got stories of technology failing in the courtroom,” Nations says. One time, attorneys for a major corporation defending against Nations couldn’t get their PowerPoint presentation to run during summation. “The irony was, it was a trial about some of the company’s technology that I said was failing.” Although he believes he would have won the case anyway, “It sure didn’t hurt any,” he says, with a laugh.

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