Technology for Courtroom Presentations

Vol. 31 No. 5

By

Paul J. Unger is a national speaker, writer, and thought leader in the legal technology industry. He is an attorney and founding principal of Affinity Consulting Group and the Chair of the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center (lawtechnology.org).

Let’s take a step back in time. It is the early 1990s and days before trial. We are rushing our documents and custom graphics to the reprographics shop to be blown up on foam boards. Some lawyers on our team are finalizing their slide show—an actual slide show, made up of 35 mm slides to be displayed in a carousel wheel and projector. (It would be a year or two before adventurous attorneys would start discovering PowerPoint, released by Microsoft in 1990.) If only we had more money, we could afford an ELMO, the latest, cutting-edge video overhead projector. As it is, we’re lucky to have a VCR.

Fast forward to 1996: TrialDirector, the first major trial presentation program, is released by inData. It’s a game changer. Very soon a major competitor hits the market: Sanction by Verdict Systems. These two programs revolutionize courtroom technology by allowing lawyers to load every single possible exhibit, deposition, graphic, video, etc., and pull them up at a moment’s notice by typing a shortcut ID or via a bar code scanner. Combine PowerPoint and a trial presentation program/database, and you have the two ultimate weapons for war in the courtroom.

Courtrooms across the country soon begin renovating to meet the demands of mobile presentations via laptop computers. But only a small percentage of attorneys are actually using these amazing tools, primarily because of the learning curve. Even as late as 2010, barely 20 percent of attorneys surveyed report using a laptop for presentations in the courtroom (2011 ABA Legal Technology Survey Report, ABA Legal Technology Resource Center).

For the next 15 years, the state of courtroom technology is a bit stagnant. Only small enhancements to PowerPoint and trial presentation programs occur from time to time. The most exciting thing for me during this period is seeing older lawyers adopt the use of this technology and merge it with decades of courtroom experience and storytelling skills. For the handful of trial presentation consultants helping pave this road, witnessing the intersection between veteran trial lawyer and cutting-edge technology is a privilege.

This brings us up to 2010, which proves historic. The iPad is announced in early 2010 and hits the market around June. The iPad solves numerous problems for lawyers. First and foremost is the emergence of iPad apps such as TrialPad. All of a sudden, tech-savvy and non-tech-savvy trial lawyers all over the country begin using this trial presentation program in the courtroom. Second, the iPad revolutionizes the meaning of paperless. Lawyers are now able to leave the paper file, huge litigation briefcase, and bankers boxes back at the office and instead can take everything with them on their iPad. Third, dozens of amazing iPad apps are developed for legal research, jury selection, social media research, word processing, note taking, dictation . . . and the list goes on.

So what is the state of the art for trial presentation in 2014?

PowerPoint is still one of the default weapons in the courtroom today. If you live in the Apple ecosystem, Keynote is PowerPoint’s replacement. If you are adventurous and bored with PowerPoint and Keynote, Prezi (prezi.com) is a great alternative. These tools are great options for a rehearsed, linear presentation such as in opening statements or closing arguments. However, these tools are not great by themselves for litigators, and they are still widely misused. Lawyers, and the general population, still do not know how to properly use and design presentations. (For further instruction on storyboarding and proper PowerPoint design, see my book PowerPoint in One Hour for Lawyers, ABA, 2014). More importantly, these programs are very linear in nature and cannot store, manage, retrieve, and display a large number of images, documents, and videos in a flexible way needed for witness examination. PowerPoint wasn’t designed to organize and display all the exhibits in a civil or criminal trial. It was designed to replace 35 mm slide shows with an enhanced computer graphics–based slide show.

To store, manage, retrieve, and display lots of images, documents, and videos—as well as for some witness examinations and even some opening statements or closing arguments—a trial presentation program is essential.

Traditional computer-based presentation database programs such as TrialDirector and Sanction are still dominant in the industry, primarily because of their mature feature set, import and export utilities, and ability to handle video depositions. For the average new user in cases that don’t involve video, however, these programs will be hard-pressed to gain market share in light of programs such as TrialPad for the iPad.

PC-based Trial Presentation Programs

For sophisticated users, trial presentation consultants, and complex cases that demand a mature feature set, a traditional computer-based program is the preferred option. The following are the programs of choice.

Sanction 3.5 or 2.9. Sanction (sanction.com) lost some momentum a few years back when Verdict Systems took a bold step and rewrote the program from the ground up in a .NET framework, and then when Verdict Systems was acquired by Gallo Holdings, which filed for bankruptcy three years later. This series of events was very disruptive, and the effects are still evident, but Sanction had a strong product and loyal users. The biggest and best recent news for Sanction was its acquisition in 2012 by Lexis; its subsequent integration with a strong suite of Lexis programs such as Concordance, CaseMap, TextMap, and TimeMap; and the release in 2014 of version 3.5, which is significantly faster than the first release of version 3. Sanction 3.5 is still missing the full features and utilities found in Sanction 2.9, but for the average new user, version 3.5 is solid, fast, and looks and feels like modern software. Sanction continues to add features to 3.5 with each update. Sanction’s website, however, is a little weak, and Lexis should add resources for its user base. Sanction has a strong network of nationwide consultants. The list price for Sanction is $695, plus maintenance.

TrialDirector 6. TrialDirector (trialdirector.com) has the largest share of the market in the PC ecosystem, with Sanction right on its tail. TrialDirector is a very solid product that continuously improves. inData, its maker, is a giant in the courtroom technology industry. inData also has a very strong suite of companion products for timelines, time stamping, video depositions, and transcript management. TrialDirector’s user interface is a bit dated, though, as it still uses the same architecture from 1996. However, it is very solid. The program will face long-term challenges if inData does not bite the bullet and rewrite its program in modern code, as was done with Sanction and some newer programs. TrialDirector has a very good website with a lot of useful information and a strong network of nationwide consultants. List price for TrialDirector is $695, plus maintenance.

What can these programs do? Robust, PC-based programs such as Sanction and TrialDirector offer a full set of features to help lawyers with courtroom presentations:

  • Instant retrieval of documents. In a trial presentation database, by typing the exhibit number or Bates Number, one can instantly display that document on a large screen. For instance, type “P002-001” and the image of Plaintiff’s Exhibit 2, page 1 will appear. Select an area to magnify key sections of the document at a moment’s notice in the courtroom. (For an example, see Figure 1 below.) By comparison, if you wanted to create a call-out (zoom) in a document in PowerPoint and highlight text, it would take two separate programs and about five minutes (if you know what you are doing). Using a trial presentation program, you can do it in two seconds.
  • Instant retrieval of photographs. Similarly, by typing the exhibit number or image ID in a trial presentation database, you can instantly retrieve an endless number of photographs and magnify or annotate them. (See Figure 2 below.)
  • Instant retrieval of deposition video for impeachment or playback. Type in the video name, page, and line number to play video to impeach a witness. (See Figure 3 below.)
  • Instant retrieval of PowerPoint slideshows. By typing the name of the PowerPoint slide show or other designated ID, you can retrieve and play PowerPoint slides or presentations at a moment’s notice from within the trial presentation program. In other words, you use it as your control panel to retrieve and display all your exhibits, graphics, and PowerPoint slides. (See Figure 4 below.)

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

Figure 3.

Figure 4.

These powerful features make traditional database programs the go-to choice for cases with a substantial multi-media component.

iPad Trial Presentation Apps

The ABA Legal Technology Resource Center’s 2013 Legal Technology Survey Report noted that iPad use in the courtroom experienced a huge increase over the past couple years. It was probably the most dramatic trend in the entire report, which is the size of a telephone book. There also has been a sharp increase in tablet device usage for law-related tasks while away from the office. Some 48 percent of respondents reported using a tablet (e.g., iPad, Galaxy, Surface, etc.), compared to 33 percent in the 2012 survey and only 15 percent in 2011.

In the 2013 survey 22 percent reported occasionally using tablets for presentations. Interestingly, in the 2011 survey some 90 percent of respondents reported that they simply do not use a tablet device in the courtroom. In 2013, that number fell to 66 percent. This represents an enormous increase in the use of tablets in the courtroom.

What iPad options exist in 2014 for trial presentation apps?

TrialPad 4. TrialPad (trialpad.com) is a trial presentation database made for the iPad. It is my top pick among the iPad apps. It costs $89.99 and can be mastered in less than an afternoon. It can store thousands of images, documents, etc. Combine this with the power of Apple TV, and you have a wireless courtroom presentation. If it is a smaller case and you are efficient, you could use it without an assistant in the courtroom. The biggest limitation is video playback and video clips. In that regard, there isn’t much functionality compared to traditional PC-based programs such as Sanction and TrialDirector. Therefore, in cases where you have video playback and the need to create last-minute clips, you need the traditional tools. This will probably change over time, but right now it’s the reality. The TrialPad app was last updated in May 2014, and new features are constantly being added. Apple featured TrialPad in its Best New Apps of 2014.

ExhibitView. ExhibitView (exhibitview.net) is TrialPad’s biggest competitor. The program is also available as ExhibitView5, which is the traditional software made for the PC (it competes with Sanction and TrialDirector and costs $698). ExhibitView for the iPad is sold on the AppStore for $49.99. It has the same feature set and limitations as TrialPad for the iPad. It, too, is an incredible program. If you already have the PC version of ExhibitView, it is a great tool. Although TrialPad is my favorite iPad option, there is absolutely no need to switch to TrialPad if you already own ExhibitView. It is solid and continues to improve. The app was last updated in December 2013.

Apple TV. Whichever trial presentation app you choose for the iPad, the most amazing part of using the iPad in the courtroom is the wireless setup with Apple TV. You can pull up documents, call out areas, and annotate (highlight and freehand), all wirelessly from the iPad. No traditional solution even comes close to this wireless, lightweight, mobile functionality. (For a quick guide on how to set up the iPad and Apple TV in the courtroom, visit the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center at lawtechnology.org or see my blog post there, “Showing PowerPoint Presentations on the iPad.”)

Other Options

TrialSmart for the Mac. If you live in the Apple ecosystem and do not want to run a Windows virtualization tool such as Parallels, the trial presentation program of choice for the Mac is TrialSmart (claritylegalllc.com). TrialSmart isn’t as mature as Sanction or TrialDirector, but it is definitely getting there and still a solid choice. The developer, Clarity Legal, also offers nice companion products for creating timelines (Clarity Legal’s Timeline, $14.99) and transcript management (DepoSmart, $199). List price for TrialSmart is $299.

OnCue for Windows. OnCue (oncuetech.com) is just hitting the market and aims to go head-to-head with Sanction, TrialDirector, and TrialSmart. Like Sanction, it was developed to be a new generation of trial presentation software written in C# in a .NET framework. The primary goal was to provide better video editing and playback than Sanction and TrialDirector. OnCue is a new and promising product with good backing, fresh ideas, and a great team. It is offered on a subscription model at $80 per month with no long-term commitment (month to month), or $65 per month with an annual commitment.

New Advances, Expanded Possibilities

I am still convinced that a traditional, computer-based trial presentation program such as Sanction, TrialDirector, ExhibitView for Windows, TrialSmart, or OnCue is needed for very large cases or for those cases—even small ones—that have the need for video deposition playback. True, many of the core features available in Sanction and TrialDirector are available in TrialPad, but TrialPad does have limitations . . . at least for now. It cannot handle video clips very well. It can play them back and you can create them, but you are not able to do the on-demand page/line playback and clipping that you can do in traditional programs.

That being said, there are plenty of trials and hearings that could be handled with TrialPad or ExhibitView for the iPad. In fact, some large cases that do not require video deposition playback are handled very well on the iPad. For instance, even an iPad with just 20 GB of available storage has the capacity to store almost 300 bankers boxes worth of documents or 700,000 pages of text-searchable PDFs. That is hardly a “small” case. When combined with the seamless functionality of Apple TV, the iPad becomes a powerful presentation tool.

Whether you use a laptop or iPad, Windows or Mac, the latest technology offers a host of options that we only could have dreamed about back in the days of slide projectors and VCRs. And given the low cost of much of this new hardware and software, there is no reason that solos and small firms should shy away from cases that require complex, multimedia presentation in the courtroom.

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