GPSOLO June 2010
Presentation Software for Solos and Small Firms
Increasingly, judges are embracing the use of electronics and computer-based systems in the courts. The initial reluctance to allow “newfangled” technology has given way to acceptance of tools that enhance the speedy administration of justice. One of the earliest uses of technology in the courtroom was the playing of videotaped depositions of expert witnesses who for reasons of health or distance would not otherwise be available to testify personally at a trial. Today, trial presentations frequently include not only videotaped depositions but also the electronic presentation of images, photos, videos, and portions of documents, either on personal monitors or large-screen displays. Fortunately, the software needed to properly prepare such presentations has become increasingly affordable and easy to use.
Graphics programs can be used to create stand-alone images or multipart presentations. The obvious advantage to this class of software is that it gives legal teams the ability to create graphics without the need for outside consultants or artists. The software even allows lawyers to create new graphics on the fly in court to meet an unexpected factual twist, and then present those graphics from a laptop with the aid of a projector unit. Even when the graphics are to be presented as physical, printed display boards, the programs ensure electronic backup should the boards be delayed in transit or damaged or destroyed by an overzealous cleaning staff.
Among the most popular software packages are those included as part of an office “suite” already present on most lawyers’ computers: Microsoft Office’s Power-Point ( www.microsoft.com) and Corel Word-Perfect Office’s Presentation X4 (recently upgraded to X5; www.corel.com). These programs can create high-quality slide shows and drawings, including text, data charts, and graphic objects. One of the advantages of these programs is their flexibility. They can be used to prepare and present the graphic presentation electronically using a computer, with or without a projector, and to print paper copies for distribution. Such programs typically provide stock templates of graphics, artwork, and layouts that the user can easily modify. More advanced users can add sound and video clips to the presentation, include still photos, and import custom graphics programs such as LexisNexis TimeMap, SmartDraw, Adobe Acrobat, and Nuance PDF Converter.
The popular office suites also contain spreadsheet programs—Microsoft’s Excel and Corel’s Quattro Pro—that can transform numeric data into colorful, visually interesting charts, tables, and graphs at the push of a button. Both programs come with ready-made templates to make formatting easier.
One of the more popular stand-alone graphic software programs is Smart-Draw ( www.smartdraw.com), which offers art and sample templates that may be easily annotated, edited, and modified with pictures and downloaded material from the Internet, such as Google maps and street images to show accident scenes, timelines, and a comprehensive set of medical drawings suitable for most personal injury and medical malpractice cases.
Trial Presentation Programs
There are also dedicated litigation presentation programs, such as Sanction ( www.sanction.com) and Trial-Director ( www.indatacorp.com), which offer a more comprehensive approach to managing all the different types of exhibits for the courtroom—including documents, photographs, graphic images, video presentations, and recorded depositions. These programs function as databases of all the exhibits in a case. With everything stored electronically in a single program, it is not a problem during trial or deposition to find and show almost anything on a moment’s notice when testimony or strategy changes.
Unlike Power-Point, which requires the creation and arrangement of individual slides, these programs allow existing documents and files to be presented without any more effort than copying them into the program data file and making a selection for presentation. In many of these programs, such as Sanction, files can be transferred using a folder-based, drag-and-drop system familiar from Windows Explorer. The final presentation usually can be previewed on a computer or laptop screen using the dual monitor mode before being projected.
In addition to their relatively intuitive functionality, one advantage of these higher-level presentation programs is the ability to work easily with a variety of file types, including video. A deposition video may be edited to show only the desired questions and answers, allowing for the exclusion of objectionable questions as determined by the trial judge in the pretrial conference. The video and sound may also be presented with the written transcript on the screen. The programs will also aid the presentation of documentary evidence. Relevant portions of documents can be displayed as the witness testifies and identifies the document for everyone in the courtroom to see at the same time, without passing paper copies to everyone.
But, a word of caution: Not all native file formats can be used in all trial presentation programs, just as not all music files can be played on every brand of portable music player. It is wise to check the formats supported by the selected trial presentation program early in the process to ensure compatibility and avoid a rush near trial to convert or find suitable replacements.
Presentations When the Lights Go Out
Do not assume the courtroom computer or the laptop graciously lent to you by your opponent contains the software you need—in the version you need—to display your graphics. For example, Microsoft Power-Point 2003 cannot be used with files created and saved in the 2007 format. It is a good practice to save the presentation in multiple file formats such as Power-Point 2003, Power-Point 2007, and in the presentation mode of Power-Point; the latter contains its own viewer and does not require Power-Point on the computer used. Never assume the computer system provided will have a CD or DVD drive or that there will be enough USB ports for your memory stick or the needed memory card format slot. Bring adapters and backup on an SD or flash memory card. Many legal teams bring a backup of important files and software on extra laptop computers.
Even the best plans can be sidetracked when the equipment fails or when the power needed is not available. In anticipation of “when all else fails,” it is always good to have backup hard copies of graphs and charts. To paraphrase an old adage, if anything can go wrong, it will, at the worst possible moment—and in the middle of trial.
Try It Before You Buy It
If you do not currently have any of the software programs mentioned in this article, you can still try them. Free demo versions lasting 30 to 90 days are available from most vendors’ websites. Formal training is not needed to get started. Most vendors provide tutorials and online training to quickly learn the use of the program tools and features. After a few minutes of training with these tutorials, you should gain a sense of which programs will work best for you.
As you prepare your next case for trial, consider how you could use the software described above to create and organize a visual or multimedia presentation. Once you see the impact of such presentations to communicate your message, there is no turning back.
Thomas F. Goldman teaches an online course in technology in the law office on the New York Times Knowledge Network and is the author of Technology in the Law Office (2nd edition, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2009); he may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .