May 21, 2012 Articles

Young Lawyers: Technology Is an Advantage in the Courtroom

By Crystal R. Axelrod

It is rare that a client will request a younger lawyer to represent him or her in court. Most would jump to the conclusion that younger lawyers have less to offer because they have less experience. Admittedly, we cannot deny the unimpressive number of years we’ve been in practice or the puny number of cases we’ve argued. On the other hand, as young lawyers, we are uniquely equipped to master one commonly overlooked tool that can make every litigator a stronger advocate in the courtroom—technology.

In the past, lawyers have been stereotyped as being adverse to technology, a so-called “old school bunch happier in dusty law libraries than surfing LexisNexis.” Melissa Maleske, “Legal Technology Tools to Modernize Your Office,” InsideCounsel, May 1, 2010. By contrast, most law firms today embrace technology, from electronic discovery to entirely paperless offices. Still, most lawyers are reluctant to use technology in the courtroom. By not using all available resources to advocate for our client, especially when opposing counsel is fully prepared to do so, we risk doing our client a disservice. The effective use of courtroom technology can help a litigant gain a significant edge over the opposition, and a young lawyer can be the key to making that happen.

That is not to suggest that junior associates should sacrifice precious billable hours to become an expert on computer-generated imaging or forensic crime-scene re-creation. Although, it wouldn’t hurt to be aware of a number of modern litigation tools available to lawyers today. See, e.g., “Liquid Litigation Releases Deposition iPad App,” Law Tech. News, Jan. 17, 2012; see also Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blawg of the ABA Journal (last visited Mar. 12, 2012) (periodically reviewing new iPad apps such as JuryTracker, ExhibitView, and TrialPad). To the contrary, I encourage the effective use of a single, basic, user-friendly software program that virtually every young lawyer learned to operate in undergraduate school if not high school: Microsoft PowerPoint.

As a current law clerk and former judicial intern, I have heard judges mention on numerous occasions how valuable the use of a PowerPoint presentation can be in the courtroom, but don’t take my word for it. See, e.g., Ted Brooks, “Judicial Opinions on Technology at Trial,” Court Technology and Trial Presentation (May 3, 2011); Fed. Judicial Ctr., Effective Use of Courtroom Technology: A Judge’s Guide to Pretrial and Trial [PDF] 104 (2001). I have also had the opportunity to observe which types of presentations tend to be the most effective. The following are three reasons why young lawyers, and all lawyers for that matter, should use PowerPoint as a litigation tool whenever possible, along with a few practice pointers to ensure effective delivery.

It Forces You to Organize and Streamline Your Argument
Organizing the slides in your PowerPoint presentation will inevitably force you to organize the main points you want to make in your oral argument. By choosing the sequence of the slides, you are, in effect, reevaluating the logical progression of your argument. Likewise, by choosing section headings, and even font size and color, you must determine which points to bring to the forefront of your argument and how strongly you want to emphasize them. The process of designing your slide presentation ensures that your oral argument is logically organized, polished, and well-presented.

Limit the size of your presentation. It is important to keep in mind that not everything in your argument belongs in a PowerPoint slide. Your goal is to simplify, rather than summarize, your argument. The great thing about a visual presentation is that it allows you to highlight your most important points to grab your audience’s attention and focus it accordingly. It is difficult to accomplish this if you list every relevant case cite and background fact in a three-hour, 200-slide presentation. Choose your main points carefully, so as not to bore or, worse yet, confuse or frustrate your audience.

It Is Helpful to the Fact Finder
A simplified, visual presentation helps your audience follow along and remain engaged throughout your argument. This is particularly true in mass-tort litigation, where the judge or jury must process a complex set of facts, often involving multiple parties and various causes of action. You can use PowerPoint as a tool to help make their tasks easier. For example, when there are numerous parties involved in the case, you might use graphics to draw relationships between them. This is especially useful when the parties are affiliated corporate officers or entities with varying fiduciary relationships. Similarly, to break down a complex sequence of events, you can design a simplified timeline from Event A to Event Z, highlighting important points along the way as you explain them to the judge or the jury. You could even draw a parallel timeline on the same slide to illustrate how a related sequence of events occurred simultaneously. It is much more difficult to get these types of points across without the use of current technology.

Offer the court a copy of your presentation. If you are preparing an oral argument for a motions hearing, it is a good idea to provide the court with a spiral-bound, color copy of your PowerPoint slides before you begin. This may help the judge actively follow along by giving him or her the freedom to flip back and forth to different slides during the presentation. This is doubly useful if the court decides to take the matter under advisement, as opposed to ruling immediately from the bench. When the judge or the judge’s law clerk begins to draft an order several days or weeks later, he or she can refer back to your PowerPoint slides for a succinct outline of your argument. The court will generally rely on some combination of memory, notes, and perhaps a transcript or an audio recording of the hearing when it comes time to draft the order. Nevertheless, it certainly cannot hurt to provide the court with this additional resource.

It Is Persuasive
Effectively incorporating PowerPoint slides into your oral argument shows your audience not only that you are organized and that you want to be helpful, but it also demonstrates that you know your stuff. By the time you’ve gone through the entire process of strategically designing your slides and practicing your presentation, you will be thoroughly familiar with every aspect of your case, and it will show. Moreover, a simplified, focused presentation is more likely to generate a favorable result for your client. Simply put, a jury is more likely to reach your desired conclusion if you draw a basic path and point them in the right direction. It is also possible that they will, consciously or not, throw you some bonus points for making their task less overwhelming and perhaps even somewhat enjoyable.

You must allow for sufficient time to practice delivering your oral argument along with the live PowerPoint presentation, ideally in the courtroom where the trial or hearing will take place. In particular, if someone else will be transitioning the slides for you, go over cues and timing with that person in advance. In most cases, the court staff will accommodate your request to familiarize yourself with the equipment. Take advantage of their willingness to do so. The court does not want to see technical glitches during the presentation any more than you do. Moreover, preventable delays waste time, which neither a busy judge nor an antsy juror appreciates. Similarly, make sure you account for any setup or transition time when you give the court an estimate of how long you will take. Both the court and the jury will appreciate your sticking to the schedule.

Keywords: litigation, mass torts, young lawyers, trials, technology


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