GPSOLO December 2009
Macs at Trial
The use of computers and technology in trials and other proceedings has steadily grown over the years, particularly as more courts have upgraded their infrastructure. Virtually everyone knows about PowerPoint, as that presentation program has been used throughout corporate life for all sorts of training, so that its use in trials is not surprising. The purpose of this article is to explore the world of Macintosh lawyers using Mac technology and software in their presentations to courts and juries. My own experience mirrors what follows, but since it’s been a few years since I’ve been at trial, I thought it best to consult two lawyers with ample current experience in trying cases using the Mac.
I spoke with Tom Hart and Ron Murphy. Tom Hart practices trial law in Charleston, South Carolina, and Christiansted, Virgin Islands, and tries four to five complex cases (such as asbestos litigation and class actions) throughout the country each year. He has a blog called “Tom’s Tech Tips for Trial Lawyers” ( http://tomstechtipsfortriallawyers.blogspot.com). Ron Murphy is a trial lawyer in New Britain, Connecticut, and also is involved in complex litigation involving personal injuries, medical and legal malpractice, and some criminal defense work as well. He is the principal trial lawyer with The Advocates Law Firm ( www.advocateslawfirm.com). In addition, others chimed in with their experiences, and I reviewed the two sets of video DVDs from the “Using Macs in Trial” seminars held near Dallas, Texas. From all this the takeaway is: Lawyers using Mac computers and software are not at any disadvantage and, indeed, may be more advantaged, than those using other systems.
Both Tom and Ron use their Mac-Book Pro computers in trial, as have I. The 15” screen is excellent, though Ron said he thought the 17” might be better for him, given his need to have a variety of windows open on his screen at the same time. Each brings with him the necessary extension cords, adapters, and power strips, along with projectors and iPhones (more about the iPhone later). Both have found, as have I, that you really should bring your own tried-and-true hardware to court to minimize the possibility of glitches, such as projectors that won’t work.
Several pieces of software made for Macs are used by litigators with finesse. Tom uses Circus Ponies’ Notebook ( www.circusponies.com) for almost everything he does in trial work. He has a “master” notebook into which he saves repeatedly used medical art, scientific literature, experts’ contact information, etc. For each case he also creates a separate, dedicated notebook, into which he imports copies of documents, exhibits, and depositions; information on the witnesses; and outlines of his opening statement. If something is in the master notebook, such as information on an expert or a medical illustration, he opens up both the master and the case notebooks and clicks and drags what he needs from the master to the case notebook. It is possible to have only documents and information referenced in these notebooks, but Tom imports the data in full—I think I’d err on that side, too.
Tom uses Apple’s presentation software, Keynote ( www.apple.com), quite a bit in his cases, creating slides to use with experts and witnesses and to lay out his opening statement. He recently had the pleasure of being able to make adjustments to his opening slides “on the fly” in about 15 minutes and watch the other side struggle for hours to do the same with their own technology.
Adobe’s Acrobat Professional (AAP; www.adobe.com/products/acrobatpro) is a favorite piece of software for both Tom and Ron, though less so for me (I’m sure it’s because I haven’t taken the time to learn its features). Tom explained to me—we used screen sharing in iChat so he could demonstrate what he meant—how to use AAP’s “properties” feature to fill in all sorts of useful metadata so that you can easily find documents. He uses Yep’s Leap ( www.yepthat.com/leap) to organize his documents; this software uses detailed metadata to organize and make “findable” all sorts of documents on a given topic. It’s sort of an OS X Finder on steroids.
Ron explained to me his extensive use of AAP. He scans and OCRs (applies “optical character recognition” to) all medical records and other items, then Bates stamps them, bookmarks them, and adds comments to them. The bookmarks and comments allow him to follow along with a medical exhibit that the witness is using and to question the witness about each part; with a simple click he can pull up any part of the document, complete with relevant bookmarks and comments, onto the screen of his MacBook Pro. Those with an interest in learning more about using AAP in trial might want to check with the Adobe website and, specifically, with the blog “Acrobat for Legal Professionals” ( http://blogs.adobe.com/acrolaw).
Ron’s “go-to” programs are AAP and File-Maker Pro ( www.filemaker.com). In File-Maker he organizes all the information of a case into databases for facts, names, items, and issues. Because File-Maker allows for the creation of relational databases, he can then tie the relevant facts, names, and documents in a case to the issues of that case. I use the very old Trial-Maker template for File-Maker Pro to do much the same thing. There are quite a number of other File-Maker templates to be found as well. The beauty of File-Maker is that you can edit and adjust the templates to do what you need, as demonstrated by Ron’s adaptation.
As litigators know, many court reporters use the Windows-based Real-Legal transcription software ( www.reallegal.com) to take and render depositions. Tom has found that using Code-Weavers’ Cross-Over ( www.codeweavers.com/products/cxmac) allows him to access Real-Legal transcripts without using Windows software. Just to be safe, however, he gets depositions in TXT and PDF format as well. (I insist on those two formats being e-mailed to me, particularly because for some odd reason some court reporters are still delivering floppies!) Tom then imports the depositions into Notebook and annotates them there.
Other programs that might be worth investigating for use in a law office, in preparing cases, and in trial are often discussed on the Mac-Law listserve ( www.maclaw.org). There’s also a Google Group called MILO (Macs in the Law Office; http://gdgrifflaw.typepad.com./home_office_lawyer/2008/10/macs-in-law-off.html) that you might want to check out, as well as a blog, MacLitigator ( www.maclitigator.com), that might be of interest.
The topic of a litigator using the iPhone might, perhaps, require an entirely separate column. For now, note that I have an iPhone 3GS and use it in all sorts of situations, in and out of court. Tom and Ron both have iPhones and use them in their practices, including at trial (subject to the rules, of course). For example, there are a number of document applications for the iPhone that allow you to take documents with you and edit and e-mail them just as you would on a computer. (I recently wrote about them on my blog— www.herringlaw.com—under the topic of technology.) One of the problems with some of these applications is that they require you to be on WiFi in order to access your data, which I find limiting. But not all do, so you just need to look around a bit. Lawyers interested in the use of the iPhone should consult iPhone J.D. ( www.iphonejd.com) and its author’s link-filled article for the ABA TECHSHOW website about the iPhone ( www.abanet.org/techshow/blog/092208.shtml); Tax-Prof’s blog ( http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2009/08/five-iphone.html); and The Mac Lawyer’s article on five iPhone applications for lawyers ( www.themaclawyer.com/2009/08/articles/iphone/five-helpful-iphone-apps-for-attorneys), plus the various iPhone-centric websites.
As you can see from the above discussion, there are plenty of trial attorneys with experience using Macintosh computers and software in preparation for and conduct of a bench or jury trial. In fact, one of the best things about using the Mac OS on a newer Mac computer is that you can stay in the Mac world all the time—as I do—or you can dip your toe into the Windows ocean from time to time with software that lets you run Windows-based programs.
Victoria L. Herring practices in Des Moines, Iowa, in an office that has used only Apple/Macs since the early 1980s. She may be reached at email@example.com.