GPSolo Magazine - December 2003
Use of trial presentation technology has increased during the past few years, and solos and small-firm lawyers setting up or updating their offices are struggling with the cost analysis issues inherent in any technology decision. Ultimately, the question becomes whether to buy equipment and perform these functions in-house or to outsource the work to a trial presentation vendor.
Buying your own basic presentation equipment shouldn’t break the bank. If you already have a laptop, all you’ll need are a projector, document camera, and screen. As with all other types of technology, prices on this equipment have dropped dramatically. To gauge just how much, I decided to speak to an expert in the field, Chris Hazelmann, who makes purchasing decisions every week for both his own company and clients.
Hazelmann is CEO of ProVideo, a Seattle- based litigation-support video services company that specializes in litigation tech support, including in-court presentation systems. They are constantly faced with questions from clients about buying equipment or outsourcing the work. He noted that increased marketing by trial presentation software companies and lower prices for such software have led many firms to consider doing it themselves.
In general, equipment is of higher quality as well as faster, more compact, and less expensive than two years ago. However, firms that bought substantial amounts of equipment several years ago may have problems running new software on it. So the good news is that if you’re starting from scratch, this is a great time to buy equipment. Just keep in mind that some amount of obsolescence may continue.
The first item to consider is a projector that easily plugs into a computer and projects onto a screen for easy viewing. This lets you toggle the display between projector and computer screen or to view both screens simultaneously. By current standards, the best projector for use in a large room has a brightness of at least 3,000 lumens. The units typically weigh between ten and 15 pounds and cost between $5,000 and $10,000. A 3,000-lumens setting allows you to use the projector without turning off lights or drawing the blinds, and the picture for people sitting to either side of the screen is normal. Smaller projectors, often sold for travel, are available with brightness levels between 1,100 and 1,500 lumens, weighing five pounds or less and costing well under $2,000. They work well only in small rooms, however, so are better for conferences or settlements rather than courtrooms. Leading makers of projectors include Proxima (www.proxima.com), Sharp (www.sharpusa.com), and ViewSonic (www.viewsonic.com).
To use a projector, documents or slide shows must be prepared in advance. For last-minute projection of undigitized documents or a three-dimensional object, the best choice is a document camera. Entry-level document cameras can be purchased for as little as $2,000, but a quality unit can run as high as $7,000. The real factor in determining the best unit is, of course, resolution. Original document cameras used a TV video standard, generally 525 lines, but current models come with digital output; the result is an extremely clear, sharp picture that is tremendously more impressive than the older standard. Leading makers of document cameras include Elmo (www.elmousa.com) and WolfVision (www.wolfvision.com).
Finally, you must consider the projection surface. Many companies simply use a plain white wall, but a projection screen offers several advantages for a minimal price. A screen has optical coatings that enhance reflective properties, and it renders stronger highlights, contrast, color saturation, and sharpness than a wall. In addition, an often-overlooked benefit of a screen is its frame; a solid black frame surrounding a projected image substantially improves its visual quality. Quality screens are offered by companies such as Da-Lite (www.da-lite.com), among others.
Screen size also is important. A standard rule of thumb with projectors is that a viewing distance less than one and a half times the screen width produces a very big picture, but it’s offset by the “graininess” (or pixelation) of the image. A viewing distance at least twice the screen width is optimal.
The specs quoted above will give you the industry standard—but what do the experts recommend? Hazelmann advises clients to buy a good laptop computer, a projector, and a standard, six-foot tripod screen. He advises that lawyers use an outside vendor to image documents and load them into the software, unless the presentation is in PowerPoint and they can insert the images or clips themselves. For settings requiring a document camera, bigger or backlit screens, or multiple screens and monitors, clients are best off renting equipment as needed. This setup is best, Hazelmann believes, because it allows lawyers to focus on lawyering, not technology.
Thomas J. O’Connor is a consultant with Litigation Management Consultants, Inc., in Seattle, Washington. He can be reached at email@example.com.