How Much Tech Is Too Much During a Major Trial?

By Tad Thomas | Feb 23, 2021 | Tad's Tech Corner

Technology is an essential part of any modern practicing attorney’s toolkit. In Tad’s Tech Corner, join me as I discuss how to best utilize technology– both from a device and software standpoint– during your daily lawyering tasks and during trial. Discussions, as always, are welcome in the comments section below.

— Tad Thomas

The technology we use in the courtroom is constantly changing. The tech we have access to today offers machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, autonomous capability, and more. When we have access to so many different hardware and software, it can be challenging to step back and determine just how much tech is too much during a major trial.

Technology in the Courtroom

Prior to the use of courtroom technology, counsel relied on their courtroom presence, oratory, and enlarged exhibits to make their case. While presence and oratory still have their place, enlarged exhibits have been replaced by different technologies.

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), the most common technology used in the courtroom today includes:

  • Video Displays. There are a variety of options when it comes to using video displays in the courtroom. One of the most common configurations is to use a single projector screen or large monitor strategically placed in the courtroom. There’s also the option to involve multiple monitors around the courtroom for viewing by counsel and the parties, the judge, jury, and witness.
  • Evidence Camera. After the video displays, the most important piece of equipment is the evidence camera. This technology allows for the instantaneous conversion of paper documents or physical exhibits to an electronic image for display on the courtroom’s monitors. There is the ability to reduce or enlarge the image as needed.
  • Annotation Monitors. Annotation monitors allow witnesses to mark an exhibit with notations. This is essentially the equivalent of drawing on a large poster board exhibit, with the added benefit of being able to preserve or clear the markings.
  • Witness Monitor. In many cases, it’s important for the witness to see an exhibit before the jurors. With a witness monitor, whether it’s a monitor at the witness stand or a tablet-type device handed to the witness, the image can be viewed and only displayed to the jury on courtroom monitors once it has been admitted into evidence.
  • Laptop Connections and Other Digital Input Locations. In a technology-enabled courtroom, you’re likely to find laptop inputs near the litigant’s table, the speaker’s lectern, the courtroom clerk’s station, and the judge’s location.
  • Combo VCR/CD/DVD Player. While this piece of equipment isn’t needed as often as it used to be, it’s important for a fully-equipped courtroom to have a combo VCR/CD/DVD player. Legacy equipment, like cassettes, VHS, and Betamax tapes, still pop up from time to time.
  • Courtroom Printing and Electronic Storage of Exhibits. In addition to being used for printing copies of images and markings for review by the judge or jury during deliberations, paper copies are useful to have in the event of computer crashes or the internet fails.
  • Integrated Controller. An integrated controller will likely be used to manage images and audio tracks. In many instances, the judge or a courtroom clerk will manage this task.
  • Remote Witness Testimony and Video Conferences. In the event a witness is in a remote location during a trial, it’s imperative to have a video camera and broadband availability. While more common with civil trials, an uptick in remote testimony has happened in all trials amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Every trial you tackle will require a different strategy, which means different technologies. While technology can play a part in aiding your case during trial, it’s important to remember that there can be too much tech. In order to avoid jeopardizing your case, let’s take a look at how you can balance your technology strategy.

Balancing Your Technology Strategy

If you’re using technology during a major trial, it’s important to be able to determine if your use of that technology is effective. Start by observing the judge or jury in your case. If digital exhibits or extensive use seem to distract, confuse, or bore the jury or judge, it’s time to back away and stick to the basics. While you may feel the digital details are important to your client’s case, it’s possible the judge or jury could see no value in them if they’re overwhelming or nonsensical.

We know that live testimony at trial is not always feasible. Remember, however, that the constant use of video technology can hinder establishing the credibility of not only a witness but your case as a whole. This is because when a witness is being questioned or cross-examined, the jury watches for physical cues that could detract from what they’re saying. When a jury only has access to a video testimony, there’s a certain aspect of human relations missing. If possible, supplement video testimony with live testimony or the use of summary demonstratives.

If the chronology of your case is inherently confusing, using only videos and images as a foundation of your timeline can make it difficult for the jury to determine what happened and when. To avoid that problem, start out by presenting a solid timeline to the court and augmenting it with relevant images and videos. The jury will only be able to make an accurate determination if they can follow a logical flow.

Regardless of how you use your technology during a major trial, remember to gauge the reactions of the judge and jury. Their reactions will be the biggest indicator as to whether you’re focusing too much on the technology you have at hand and not focusing enough on clearly and concisely presenting your client’s case.