Check It Out: Test and Rehearse to Avoid Tech Troubles When Presenting Your Case

Vol. 1, No. 10

Morgan C. Smith is president and founder of Cogent Legal, a Bay Area-based litigation graphics and trial strategy firm that develops compelling visual presentations for attorneys to use in mediation and trial. Previously, he was partner at The Arns Law Firm in San Francisco. He blogs about litigation advice and technology at cogentlegal.com/blog.

 

  • Learn how to anticipate and troubleshoot problems that may arise.
  • Read about six preparatory steps to take before using technology in the courtroom.

 

My wife, a journalist, likes to repeat an old adage that editors tell reporters: “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.” As an attorney specializing in litigation graphics and trial technology, I have a twist on that saying for anyone using new-media tools to present a case: “If your colleague says it works, check it out.”

In other words, don’t leave anything to chance by taking someone’s word that an equipment setup will function properly. Set it up yourself and practice using it—or else you may have the kind of regrettable experience I had the other night.

I was in a ballroom packed with attorneys for a “Trial Lawyer of the Year” dinner, and everyone was waiting to watch a video I had spent a significant amount of time producing. The 18-minute presentation, made with Adobe Premiere, featured nominees for the award talking about their cases. Photographs, graphics, and music seamlessly blended with the nominees’ interview clips. I admit, I was pretty proud of the final product—which featured my name and logo—and eager for everyone to see it.

I asked the hosts in charge of the audio-visual equipment if they had everything they needed to play it, but I didn’t check it out. Imagine my reaction as the video played in a stuttering, jerky fashion that made it difficult to watch. As my stomach sunk, I cursed myself for not bringing my own equipment to use. (Click here to open a link to the video on YouTube, if you’re curious to see how it was supposed to play.)

Three days later, I headed to the Northern District of California Judicial Conference to make a presentation on new technologies for federal litigation. I triple-checked that I had all my necessary gear and confirmed that the symposium room had a screen for projection. My gear included:

  • Laptop projector table
  • Laptop
  • Two iPads
  • iPhone
  • Power strip
  • Apple TV device
  • Airport Express WiFi creator
  • HDMI cords, power cord, adapters, and iPhone chargers

Then I arrived at the room more than an hour early to check the setup and rehearse, determined not to let any technical snafus trip me up.

My plan for the seminar was first to show my Keynote presentation on the Mac laptop through the projectors by using my iPhone as a remote control. Secondly, I planned on switching over to the wireless iPad setup to show the wireless capabilities of the iPad through an Apple TV device. This requires having your own WiFi source and connecting both the iPad and Apple TV to the WiFi to make it work. The over-riding purpose was to demonstrate how these presentation apps and technology could be used in court or in a hearing room for litigation.

Someone once told me, “Anyone can make something work: the trick is to make it not work so you can figure out how to fix it under any circumstance.” With that in mind, I anticipated and troubleshot problems that might arise. For example, I randomly plugged in and unplugged the different components to make sure that some combination of outages would not cause the whole wireless connection to stop functioning. When you’re standing in front of an audience and touting the benefits of wireless presentation, having the WiFi go out is unacceptable.

I’m happy to report my presentation went without a hitch and was well received. Nothing beats having the setup time before a presentation to repeatedly check and recheck everything, and to use your own equipment so you know that it works together. I’m certain I’ll always follow my own advice about that from now on.

To avoid having the kind of experience I had at the “Trial Lawyer of the Year" dinner, but in the courtroom (where the stakes can be much higher), never forget to do these six things in preparation for using technology:

  1. Use your own equipment in a courtroom.
  2. Do not assume the court will supply anything, and if they do supply anything, do not assume it will work.
  3. When possible, check out the courtroom before the trial to figure out where you are going to set up your equipment.
  4. Bring duct tape to tape down your cords if they are on the floor, extension cords so they reach to an outlet, and a power strip to ensure an adequate number of outlets.
  5. Practice, practice, practice setting up and using your tech tools.
  6. Hire a courtroom tech support specialist if you feel that handling the technical aspect of your presentation will detract from your ability to make your best case, and have a practice session with that person before your important court date.

And, if you are using an iPad, follow this outline on how to set up a wireless or hard-wired system for iPad presentation. (It also lists some of my favorite apps for attorneys.)

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