GPSolo Magazine - June 2004
Who Runs the Media Magic Show?
Be Your Own Courtroom Wizard
Can you run electronic trial equipment and try a case at the same time, or should someone else manage the technology in the courtroom? If you’ve done this before with disastrous results, the answer is obvious; but lawyers just starting to take advantage of newer forms of presentation ware may want help deciding what to do. To start, ask and answer the following questions:
• Who does the client trust?
• Who does the research?
• Who drafts the pleadings and motions?
• Who examines the witnesses?
• Who shows exhibits to the jury?
• Who writes on the flip chart or board during opening statement and closing argument?
• Who best knows your client’s case?
If the answer to two or more of these questions is “me,” then you can and should be the person in control of the technology you use in the courtroom. Why? Because you can. Because it’s not difficult. Because you are in charge of all other aspects of presenting your client’s case. Because the buck stops with you.
You can do it. You can operate a copy machine, a VCR, a camera, a slide projector, and many other seemingly complex devices (can’t you?). The technology used to present evidence and demonstrative aids in the courtroom is no more complicated than these.
Practice Makes Confidence
No special skills are required to use Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft PowerPoint, Corel Presentations, or similar applications to manufacture additional visuals for your opening statements, pictures, charts, and lists of facts to prove. If you don’t believe that, try a few practice runs. You prepare the slides before you ever get to court. In the courtroom, you connect your computer to a projector, place the projector an appropriate distance from the screen, open your presentation application, select the appropriate file, and begin the presentation (clicking the mouse, tapping the touch-pad, or pressing the enter key to advance the slides). Less can go wrong with this process than with trying to draw the accident scene from memory or listing the important dates and documents on a flip chart.
Using digital media prepared ahead of time allows you to focus your concentration on the trial. The writing is always clear and legible, the graphics are sharp—and remember, you did the hard part before you ever entered the courtroom. You already rehearse your opening statements and closing arguments (don’t you?), so of course you’ll practice using the technology at the same time. In fact, once you use presentation software (just a fancy outlining tool) to prepare opening statements and closing arguments, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without it. And if you go this far, there’s no reason not to take one more step and be the person in control of that technology in the courtroom.
Now, let’s move on to something slightly more difficult but well within your powers—the presentation of evidence using electronic technology. Have you ever played a sound recording for the judge or jury to hear? Have you, in fact, been so bold as to play a video recording? Did someone come with you just to operate the tape player or VCR? (If so, keep reading—it’s never too late.)
Again, start small—think about presenting a single piece of evidence. Now make that piece of evidence a big, important survey map, one of those 24 x 36 inch slabs too big for you or the witness to handle—and with information too small for anyone to read anyway. That map, scanned to a graphic file format (JPEG, TIFF, or PDF), might become the only slide in your presentation, or a single-page PDF document, or one of many slides or pages. But in one of these formats, witnesses, judge, and jurors can see the document at the same time, at a size that facilitates comprehension. The tools to accomplish this are the same ones you already learned how to use for opening and closing—a computer, projector, and your choice of presentation applications.
You don’t need to be a wizard to effectively run your own technology in the courtroom. The secret—oh, I really hate to just give this away—is the same old saw that got violinists to Carnegie Hall in the classic joke: Practice.
David L. Masters practices law in Montrose, Colorado, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.