GPSOLO June 2010
Using Consultants for Courtroom Presentations
As attorneys venture into the arena of multi-media trial presentation, the inevitable fear arises: Is it actually going to work? No doubt, audiovisual presentations increase your power of advocacy, but the mere thought of something going wrong with the technology during your opening statement or an important cross-examination might be enough to send you scurrying back to more old-fashioned methods. There is a third option, however: hiring a consultant to assist you with the preparation, courtroom setup, and the operation of the technology during trial. Here are some things to consider before you commit yourself or your client to shelling out for that consultant.
First, make sure the consultant has actual courtroom experience. There is no substitute for being in the hot seat. The pressure and intensity of a courtroom trial can sometimes throw a good technician into a frenzy. Being cool under pressure can’t be taught. Rather, it comes simply from being in the trenches enough times to be able to work with flexibility—and to know what to look for. When you need to change course in the middle of a witness examination or closing argument, your consultant must have the ability to recognize that you are changing directions and improvise to meet the needs of an unrehearsed presentation. This is where courtroom experience comes in. If you are going to hire a consultant to assist you, that consultant should have a minimum of ten trials under his or her belt.
Most trial presentation consultants are very well versed at using presentation software such as TrialDirector or Sanction and can operate a laptop with one of these applications installed. A good trial consultant should be more than just a software technician, however. He or she should also be well versed in the creation of graphic demonstratives. For example, a trial presentation consultant should have skills in creating demonstratives in the war room at night for the next day’s presentation. Knowledge of graphics software applications such as PowerPoint, Photoshop, and Illustrator is a must.
A good consultant will also be knowledgeable about the hardware used in the courtroom. Generally speaking, installing and setting up trial presentation equipment is not difficult. The difficulty arises when something goes wrong. Once a monitor stops working or a projector starts to flicker, someone needs to resolve the problem within seconds. Asking the court to take a break could disrupt the flow of an examination, causing loss of momentum with the witness and jury. Your consultant must know these hardware systems and how to remedy a problem immediately—and without disrupting the presentation of your case.
A good trial consultant should have some basic knowledge of trial advocacy, evidence rules, and basic trial strategy. There is a difference between a trial consultant and a trial technician. A trial technician makes the technology work. Period. By contrast, a consultant will provide more assistance to you in the war room and in trial. You can expect a consultant to have knowledge of the case, assist you with presentation strategies for a cross-examination, and help you build a powerful opening statement and closing argument. A qualified consultant will also make useful suggestions on demonstratives, help you decide whether or not to use deposition video, and be aware of the jury’s reactions to the presentation of evidence and exhibits.
Using a qualified consultant when appropriate can open up opportunities for a multimedia trial presentation that might otherwise be unavailable. Understanding how a consultant adds to a trial team—and recognizing the skill set required—can guarantee you get a good “bang for your buck.”
Timothy A. Piganelli is the founder of Legal Technology Consulting, Inc., a discovery and trial consulting company; he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.