GPSolo Magazine - June 2004
Who Runs the Media Magic Show?
Leave the Hocus-Pocus to Others
With all due deference to Frank Morgan and The Wizard of Oz, the words “Pay no attention to the man behind the screen” could not be more appropriate than when it comes to making a courtroom presentation utilizing the latest wizardry in legal technology.
Think of the possibilities and your mind will boggle at the prospect of literally making the judge and/or jury see your case as you do, and see it in real time. Making the case against wearing all the hats is as easy as . . . well, one, two, three.
• Rule 1. Never be the attorney and the technologist. Never, ever challenge this rule, even though it’s sometimes easier said than done. It just isn’t good lawyering to try to present your case while at the same time ensuring that every aspect of the technology (the computer, the PowerPoint presentation, the projector, the exhibits, the screen) is functioning properly and good to go—at the same moment your case is ready to go.
All too often, in search of cost cutting or spiffing up the old image, lawyers try to utilize their computers in the courtroom setting, only to be stymied by a glitch, a malfunction, or a citywide power failure at the very worst moment. Instead of worrying about this, you, as the responsible trial persona, should be concentrating all your efforts on the trial, your strategy, the hole you just spotted in the other side’s argument. And keep in mind as well that if you’re unable to present your case properly, you may even face a malpractice claim whose main element is that you were too busy working out computer problems and not concentrating your efforts on the trial itself.
• Rule 2. It’s just common sense at this point to hire yourself a wizard—the best techie your case can afford. Spend what it takes to ensure the right combination of geek and equipment—and enough of it to help you make a substantive and enlightening presentation in court. At a minimum your techie should have three to five portable computers loaded with your entire courtroom presentation, so if machine X goes down for the count, you can pick right up with machine Y. The techie should be experienced enough to request a backup projector, light bulb, plug adapter—you name it. Or, rather, the techie does.
And while we are on the subject, never ever use equipment that is already in court, and don’t rely on their providing any electronics. This is not the job of the court (although new high-tech courtrooms are cautiously being established in places throughout the country). Supply everything you and your techie believe you may need.
• Rule 3. This is the simplest and easiest to remember: Always follow rules one and two.
I am joking a bit, but many who read this advice will not heed it. I have been there, and I have learned the hard way. I have experienced the fear that comes with using others’ equipment; I have tried managing the computing and the trial at the same time; and after 31 years of experience in the trial court, I can firmly attest that these three rules make for the best courtroom experience. Take my advice and your clients will never regret having hired you. Well, maybe they will anyway—but not because your attempts to play wizard made you forget your legal brains, heart, and courage.
Alan Pearlman is a practicing attorney in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs. He is the author of the nationally syndicated column “The Electronic Lawyer” and a frequent speaker at national legal technology seminars. He can be reached via e-mail at Pearlman@theelectroniclawyer.com or on the web at www.theelectroniclawyer.com.