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
If you’ve been practicing law for years, you know that the technology used in litigation has changed drastically just in the last decade. With tools that feature machine learning, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, 3D printing, and more, the devices that we have can both help and hurt us in trial.
While the technology around us is always changing, lack of proper funding for the court systems leaves the public’s courtrooms stuck in the past. That’s why today’s attorneys need to have a wide breadth of knowledge of the past and present technologies available. If something goes wrong and your plan fails, it’s imperative to be a secondary plan. Let’s take a look at how you can formulate a backup technology plan during trial.
Planning for Trial and Technology in the Courtroom
Before thinking about utilizing the technology available in the courtroom, you need to think about the foundation of any courtroom presentation, including the people and the protocols. Personally, I do a lot of the technology presentation myself. Preparing the presentation helps me think of the bigger picture of the trial and consider the jury as the audience. A courtroom presentation technologist can help manage that process, which may be someone on your staff or a trial consultant. These can be very costly and should be considered only for larger cases. Ensure that if you use someone in-house, that they are well-trained, not only on the presentation tools but make them knowledgeable about your case and where you are going with the trial presentation.
As any trial lawyer knows, not all courtrooms are configured for electronic presentations. If you’re planning on using one, you may need to provide the hardware components. This could include monitors, projectors, speakers, wiring, and networking. Remember to regularly upgrade your trial equipment, as having the most current equipment will reduce the risk of running into performance problems. With software, your trial presentation computer should always include a full copy of your case data—including the evidence management software you use at your firm. I maintain an entire trial presentation setup that I pull out a week or two before trial. I take some time to test all of the system components that might be used at trial and then use the system to run through my trial presentation.
For simple courtroom presentations, a tool like Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote may be sufficient. The advantage of PowerPoint is that many people are familiar with it, and it’s possible to display various embedded programs like video streams and Excel tables. Personally, I find Keynote more user-friendly and, as a heavy Mac/iPad user, it functions better with my trial tools. Keynote and PowerPoint are great for linear presentations such as openings and closings. Still, programs like TrialPad and the soon to be released iLitigate for iPad are more useful for direct and cross-examinations because of their ability to present documents on the fly.
Preparing for the Unexpected and Adapting Your Plan
One of the most prominent problems lawyers face when it comes to their technology failing is losing data. To avoid lost data, remember the rule of three:
- Backup data in your office on a local back up drive or another type of local backup.
- Backup data using a different type of media (i.e., cloud-based backup systems or DVDs).
- Backup your data outside of the office.
My firm uses Dropbox as our server. Before trial I synch the case file so that the entire file resides on my laptop. I also download key parts of the file to the iPads I’m using at trial. That’s right, iPads with an “s.” For the last several years, I have used no paper in my trials other than what the court requires to be admitted as exhibits. I use two iPads and a MacBook Pro.
With a small firm, the rule of three might look like having data backed up to a local external drive at night, using a cloud-based backup to store the same data, and having an image of the local external drive taken offsite on a nightly or weekly basis.
With how unique every case and trial is, it’s essential to have an early understanding of the type of technology needed to improve your chances of a successful outcome for your client. Whether you contact the court yourself or have a member of your staff do so, make sure to seek answers to the following questions:
- What existing technology is available in the courtroom?
- Does the court require approval to bring equipment in?
- How early can the team arrive to set up and test the technology before the trial begins?
- If monitors are not available, how many will you need to provide?
- Is your presentation equipment compatible with the courtroom technology?
- What have other teams done in regard to technology configurations?
- Is a courtroom diagram available?
- Who is the best person to contact for courtroom setup issues?
- Is the lighting appropriate for your presentation?
- Where are the electrical outlets located?
- Does the court have an existing internet connection?
In the event the trial is taking place in a courtroom without the matching technology capabilities you need, either bring your own equipment or hire a trial technology company. If you’re using a vendor, be specific about the equipment you need and make sure they are experienced. Ask the vendor what their backup plan is in the event something goes wrong.
Prior to the start of the trial, test everything. Run through your presentation, test the audio, and make sure everything is plugged in properly. Even with everything in place, there’s always the chance something could go wrong. To avoid jeopardizing your client’s case, have a backup presentation plan. Make sure you have a flipboard or whiteboard with markers. If needed, have a tripod ready to go so everyone who needs to see your presentation can.
Having a backup plan during trial means that even when technology fails you, you won’t fail your client. Whether the issue is a poor internet connection, an inadequate courtroom, or a missing file, your backup plan will ensure you still provide the best legal representation possible and convey a clear message to the judge and jury.