Courtroom technology has been utilized in high-profile cases where sensational computer-generated animations of crashing airplanes, car accidents or hideous crimes have been used to effectively re-create and present a party’s theory of the case, or to demonstrate and explain complicated scientific evidence. Technology is now being utilized in less sensational cases as well to assist in the preparation, management and comprehension of evidence. Many courtrooms are now wired to accommodate the use of computers and multi-media tools and both judges and jurors alike now expect, and appreciate, the use of technology to help them understand cases. Litigators are therefor increasingly faced with the challenge of effectively and efficiently integrating technology into the presentation of evidence.
Databases and Search Engines
Databases assist the lawyer in managing, searching and retrieving deposition, documentary and other evidence. They afford numerous benefits during the discovery and trial preparation and are of great help during trial because they provide quick location and retrieval of vital information. You can find key documents or deposition testimony by date, word or phrase search, and print it at the trial table, instead of desperately fumbling through boxes. Everyone in the courtroom, except perhaps, your opponent, will appreciate your abilities to quickly obtain cross-examination or impeachment material germane to the moment.
Experts tell us that we learn best and more from what we see than what we hear; that we are far more likely to remember what we see than what we hear; that we have watched television since almost from birth, and that we want our information instantaneously, visually, and entertainingly. Multi-media technologies appeal to this aspect of modern life.
For years, the primary multi-media tool utilized by lawyers was the overhead projector. Today we have ELMOs and other technology. ELMO is a device that looks like an overhead projector, but is really a fixed video camera that allows you to display evidence on large screens. ELMO’s are more flexible than overhead projectors because they can be used to display small items of physical evidence as well as all forms of documentary evidence, not just transparencies. Although it has its limitations, the ELMO is a popular multi-media tool which is superior, yet similar in use to the traditional overhead projector.
Today’s, powerful lap-tops, monitors and projectors allow attorneys to easily utilize a pen-based CD-ROM system to present image documents, video, photographs, deposition transcripts and even Microsoft Powerpoint presentations with a simple swipe of a bar code reader. These systems provide you much more flexibility with evidence than the ELMO and allow you to enlarge, highlight and even circle key portions of important documents with a light pen. Direct examinations can be made more memorable if you or the witness zoom in, highlight or even circle key portions of documents while those portions are being discussed.
CD-ROM systems also allow you to easily present portions of video depositions. Available technology now allows you to electronically synchronize video depositions with a written transcript and the documents that have been examined so that any portion of a video deposition can now be searched, retrieved and displayed to the jury at trial on the fly. With this technology, you can display the text at the same time you are displaying the video and sound portions of the deposition. CD-ROM technology can also be extremely effective in cross-examination and impeachment. With the use of a CD-ROM system, you can visually reinforce the impeachment by displaying the image document or transcript to the jury as you read it. Nothing is more effective, however, than using video to impeach a witness and allowing the jury to hear the voice and observe the demeanor of the witness.
Utilization of technology is an emerging area of law practice that presents exciting opportunities for creatively and competitive advantage. Here are some suggestions about using state-of-the-art technology in law practice:
1. Obtain the assistance of a good consultant. A good consultant will help you choose the appropriate hardware and software for your needs, and will help you learn how to utilize the technology you have purchased. After you or someone on your staff have gone through the initial learning curve, your reliance on consultants will diminish.
2. Use your technology and as early as possible. The greatest technology in the world won’t help you unless you use. Much of the savings in time, effort and money resulting from the use of technology, especially in the discovery and trial preparation phase, is almost lost if you don’t start early and use it consistently.
3. Use trial presentation tools at settlement meetings, mediations, and key pre-trial hearings. Although there is always the risk of educating your opponent, the practice will help you for trial, and effective computer-aided presentations of your case can often lead to early settlements.
4. To avoid objections, advise your opponent and the court as early as possible that you intend to utilize technology in the courtroom. Courts are very receptive to the use of computers and other technologies to facilitate the trial process, provided no one is surprised by its intended use. An agreement with opposing counsel or motion to utilize technology at trial, setting forth the technology and the manner in which you intend to use it should be filed by no later than the time to file the joint pretrial stipulation. You should also obtain an order which sets forth the equipment you intend to use and directs the courthouse security personnel to provide you with access to the courtroom before the commencement of trial.
5. Be sure the courtroom can meet your technological needs. Although many courtrooms are wired for the use of technology and can even provide Internet access during trial, most are not. You need to view the courtroom ahead of time with your consultant so that you can access what equipment to use and how it can be configured for maximum effectiveness.
6. Practice, practice, practice! You can never practice your presentation enough. Effective use of technology requires a careful, concise and efficient use of tools. The advantage you seek by utilizing technology can be lost if you fumble, fidget, or look uncomfortable.
7. Use trial preparation tools sparingly to avoid minimizing their effect. Although jurors are used to viewing information from a television screen some experts think that jurors are more likely to remember and believe what they see on a screen more is not always better. Mix in traditional demonstrative aids such as poster boards, especially if you have an effective witness whom you want out of the witness box and in front of the jury.
8. When utilizing technology, always expect the unexpected. Always have a backup and always have an alternative plan for presenting your evidence. When shut-downs and glitches occur, don’t lose your cool and, where possible, keep on going. If you react in a relaxed fashion and with humor, you will garner even more respect from the jury once the problem is solved.
Using technology for the first time in trial can be a stressful experience, but it’s like anything new, once you do it, you realize that it’s not that difficult especially if you are prepared. Don’t wait until the situation arises when you have to make use of technology because your opponent is using it. If it hasn’t already happened to you, it soon will.