Last week I watched a trial. Usually, I do this from the “hotseat,” running the electronic trial technology and presenting exhibits. This time, I was there to be sure that the wireless network in the court room did not go down during trial. [Lessons confirmed: 1 – Do not rely on the courthouse wireless network for trial presentation. 2 – Have a backup wireless network for your initial wireless network. 3 – Have a non-wireless connection, just in case. We did not need the wired option, but I was glad it was there when the second wireless network started to hiccup.]
As a trial consultant, it was an interesting opportunity to watch different users and approaches to trial presentation. The plaintiff attorney used her iPad and TrialPad. She did all of the presentation work herself. The defense attorney had her paralegal using Trial Director 6 on a laptop with a wireless mouse and separate numeric keypad.
This is not a reprise of the numerous discussions about the pros and cons of various trial presentation software. Suffice it to say that both presentation softwares functioned as directed by their users. Some of the jurors may have noticed that there were two different presentation platforms being used, but I doubt they were aware of the software beyond that.
What struck me was the facility (or lack thereof) with which each attorney presented. There are some simple steps that those of us in the “hotseat” swear by that would have significantly enhanced each side’s presentation of exhibits.
- Use the exhibit number in the file name. Regardless of Mac or PC, TrialPad or Trial Director, Sanction or ExhibitView, PDF or TIFF, having your exhibits identified by exhibit number reminds you to make the appropriate record about which exhibit you are showing. The trial software you are using may influence how you name files, but the exhibit number needs to be there. Otherwise, it is too easy to say “this photo” or “the contract,” especially if the exhibits are pre-admitted.
- Have excellent equipment. If your firm has an IT department, do not let them fob you off with an older laptop. If you are your own IT department, before trial is a good time to upgrade to that new laptop or iPad you have been planning to buy. But be sure it is far enough in advance of trial that you can get to know it and its idiosyncracies. The jury doesn’t know that your old equipment is struggling to load a monster file for display. They just know that they are waiting to see a document – and it seems like forever.
- Learn the software. Especially if you are planning to do your own presentation, but even if you are not. Understanding at least the basics of what trial presentation software can do for your case is the least you can do for your client. Split screens, effective zooming and highlighting and some forethought can turn a ho-hum exhibit into a dynamic and powerful one.
- Check system compatibility ahead of time. Many state courtrooms are still not wired at all. Some are downright ancient. Be sure that you do not need a three-prong converter to plug into the court’s two-prong outlets. They do still exist! In older wired courtrooms, many systems are still VGA while newer systems (and computers) are HDMI. You need to have compatible plugs and computers. Make sure that your computer’s resolution and that of the projector or monitors that you are planning to use are compatible. All of these stumbling blocks (and others) are easily overcome, but how many trips to Best Buy do you have time to make as you prepare for voir dire?
- Using wireless. Test it thoroughly before you rely on it in trial. More than once. In the actual courtroom. And have a tested backup plan. One attorney recently said to me that all he needed was any wireless connection and he was good to go. Fortunately for all, the judge recommended otherwise. Do not rely on the courthouse’s wireless. Bring your own hotspot. Wireless can work really well, but there are no guarantees that it will. Test and test and test and have a backup plan.
Electronic presentation of exhibits is a powerful tool. At the end of trial, the jury and the judge both expressed their appreciation of the use of electronic exhibits. The total dollar amount of this case was not large by comparison with many of the cases I do. However, it was significant to the parties. A relatively small investment in presentation equipment and time significantly enhanced the jury experience. Following these tips would have made it an even better experience for the jurors.
Susan Bonar Mayer is President and CEO of Litigation Abstract, Inc., headquartered in Missoula, Montana, with a sales and service office in Seattle, Washington. Susan graduated from Duke University with a degree in History. Since 1989, Susan and Litigation Abstract, Inc. have provided customized litigation support services to both public and private clients in the United States and Canada, including data and information management, discovery reviews, document and ediscovery productions and electronic trial support. Susan is an active member of Women in Ediscovery, participates in The Sedona Conference on ediscovery, writes a blog on litigation support and ediscovery, and frequently speaks on data management, ediscovery and electronic trial. Visit: www.litigationabstract.com. Susan can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @Litigation_Abs