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Local attorneys got a glimpse into the future of trial litigation recently with a presentation of the new, technologically advanced courtroom in City Hall. Courtroom 625, the pride and joy of the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, is equipped with everything the savvy trial attorney could need to present a state-of-the-art, multimedia case to a judge and jury. A video presentation system with plasma screen monitors, document cameras, a DVD and a videotape player, computer connections, and a teleconferencing system are just some of the features at your fingertips in the freshly unveiled room. The orientation gave those present an overview not only of the courtroom’s capabilities, but also of what they will need to know to be competitive and competent trying cases there. As one of the presenters said, an attorney’s level of success in the courtroom will mostly depend on how well she or he can use the room’s equipment. In designing the room, the court looked to the experts for help. Professor Frederic I. Lederer, founder and director of Courtroom 21 at the College of William & Mary’s School of Law, and Richard K. Herrmann, a partner in Blank Rome’s Wilmington office and senior legal adviser to the Courtroom 21 project, played key roles in the Courtroom 625 project, along with Martin E. Gruen, the president of Applied Legal Technologies Inc. and pro bono deputy director of the Courtroom 21 project. The three men spoke to full sessions of attorneys interested in the inner workings of the courtroom last week. William & Mary’s Courtroom 21, a joint project with the National Center for State Courts, was revealed in September 1993 and has since been in the forefront of technological advances for trial work. Courtroom 21 includes two full portable courtrooms and has been featured on CNN, the major networks and Court TV. Much of the technology used in Courtroom 21 has been incorporated into Courtroom 625. The orientations included separate sessions for judges and attorneys. The sessions for attorneys covered everything from how to use the technology in the courtroom to the impact of the technology on trials to the mutual responsibilities the technology places on attorneys and the court. Administrative Judge James J. Fitzgerald addressed the group first, telling those gathered that Courtroom 625 is helping make Philadelphia “the forum of choice” for many attorneys. That also means economic advantages for the city as a whole, Fitzgerald said, as the attorneys who come to try cases here will also spend money in Philadelphia’s hotels and restaurants. The technology of Courtroom 625 also helps the court run more efficiently, cutting the time of a seven-day trial down to about four, Fitzgerald said. Lederer presented the bulk of the information to the group, saying one reason Courtroom 625 is exceptional is that it combines the history of City Hall with captivating aesthetics and impressive technology. He then went into the nitty-gritty of the equipment. Lederer said an attorney should have all the documents and charts she or he plans to present scanned and saved onto a notebook computer. That information can then be displayed on the many monitors throughout the room. The monitors are on the attorney tables, at the witness stand and the bench, and on individual stations at knee level before each juror. At the moment, there is no connection to the Internet, but Lederer said that could come sometime in the future. The technological problems most attorneys are going to have to worry about are not major concerns about malfunctions and such but the tiny issues that could get a lawyer off-kilter in the middle of presenting a case, Lederer said. For example, he said, the computer screen will go blank, or “sleep,” if no key is hit on the keyboard in a certain amount of time. A blank screen could cause an attorney to panic, Lederer said, so it is important to remember to program your computer in its settings to not sleep during trial. “Your success or failure as a high-tech litigator is a matter of learning to use the system correctly,” Lederer said. “The little problems can be very disruptive.” Maybe the most important aspect of a technology-focused trial presentation is the visual effect on the judge and jury, according to Lederer. Most people are visual learners, he said. Attorneys already take advantage of that fact using things like diagrams, but there is almost no simpler way to organize and present information than on a computer, he said. “The best reason for using technology is that it improves the odds that your factfinder will learn and understand,” Lederer said. Lederer said that there are high-end computer programs to use for a trial but that a slideshow program such as PowerPoint could suffice in many situations. In fact, Lederer said he did not have any evidence that the party with the most money, and therefore the highest-quality graphics, has any advantage before a jury. “No matter how good your technology may be, you won’t win if the evidence isn’t there,” he said. “In certain cases, you’re better off with the simpler, more primitive stuff. It’s clear, not confusing.” As for efficiency, Lederer said there is anecdotal evidence that taking advantage of technology takes one-quarter to one-third off the time of a trial. Lederer said he had heard concerns about attorneys then also losing billable hours in trial. But he said it could make them more valuable to their firm because they have more time to take on new clients. Taking advantage of technology can save time in several simple ways, such as cutting down on the walking around the courtroom to show exhibits or passing documents around, Lederer said. On the other hand, using technology could also mean a significant increase in pretrial preparation, by getting documents and sophisticated presentations ready to go. One thing attorneys will likely have to get used to is having the focus shift away from them to the monitors, Lederer said. In fact, the positioning of the monitors in front of jurors makes it appear as though they are looking at their feet, he said. The use of technology also brings up new variations on evidentiary issues, Lederer said. For example, labeling a graphic in a certain way, such as writing “incision that caused injury” on a medical diagram, could be considered leading, or putting the image of an expert witness in videotaped testimony on a larger-than-life screen could be considered unfair prejudice. Lederer said it is probably time to codify the rules on digital evidence. One attorney who attended Wednesday’s session, Gerald W. Spivack of Spivack & Spivack, said he found it necessary to his practice to learn about the new courtroom. “I’m excited about the possibility of improving my ability to try a case,” said Spivack, who focuses on the areas of negligence, professional liability and workers’ compensation on the part of injured parties. “I feel I have to have my exhibits prepared in such a way that they can be shown on screen. In the past I’ve used an exhibit book. This is much better and more efficient.” But Spivack said he and almost anyone else who tries a case in Courtroom 625 will need some hands-on training beforehand. “I’ve only just learned to use a computer. We’re all going to need practice,” he said. As Lederer, Herrmann and Gruen said at the orientation session, a CLE class for Courtroom 625 training will be held through the Pennsylvania Bar Institute on Aug. 28. Firms or groups of individual attorneys are also encouraged to organize their own CLEs for training. The room cannot be reserved for training by single individuals who are not scheduled for trial there. The court provides a form to request the room for trial. A committee of team leaders meets every Thursday afternoon to decide on a primary trial and a backup trial for the courtroom’s schedule. There is no cost to use the equipment in the courtroom. Spivack, for one, said he thinks Courtroom 625 is a great step forward for the Philadelphia Common Pleas Court. “I’m pleased to see the court at the forefront of this. It makes us even more proud of our court system,” Spivack said. “Our judges should be commended.”

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