August 27, 2013 Articles

You've Come a Long Way, Baby*

By Gayle Mumm Rossi and Ann T. Greeley

*But there are still a few more things you need to know about trial technology

Most seasoned litigators have already heard ad nauseum about the benefits of using presentation technology in the courtroom. It helps decision makers retain information, reduces boredom, and makes the proceedings run more smoothly. But there are still some things you probably don’t know—and what you don’t know can hurt you at trial. If you are already comfortable with the idea of using technology, then you’re halfway there. Even if you are not quite there, you still need this article. Here are three tips for becoming a tech-savvy trial lawyer.

Beware the “Fully Wired” Courtroom

Over the past decade, hundreds of courtrooms across the country have been updated and outfitted with screens, projectors, monitors, and ELMOs. As early as 1997, judges were surveyed on their opinions of technology in the courtroom. The results, published in The Third Branch in August 1998, revealed that 80 percent of judges used or planned to use courtroom technology; 72 percent believed presentation technology helped them to understand the testimony better; and 83 percent believed the technology helped them to manage the proceedings better.

While all the A/V equipment may be state of the art, it may not be installed with the decision maker in mind. One example of this is in the Eastern District of New York, a beautiful, modern courthouse where a particular courtroom was fully wired with a large screen, document camera (aka an ELMO), monitors, and sound system. The court clerk controlled the switcher, the mechanism that allows one side’s images to be displayed. Unfortunately, the screen was mounted across the courtroom toward the top of the high ceiling directly under the lights. As a result, the images on screen were washed out, making whatever was being displayed difficult for the jurors to see. We know that if jurors have to work too hard to follow the evidence, they are likely to stop trying. In addition, the audio system was unpredictable—no one knew whether or not it was going to work, or when it might be fixed. The trial team had prepared many deposition clips as well as the trial exhibits and demonstratives. While the team continued to show their evidence, much of the impact was lost because the jury had to work so hard to see and hear what the trial lawyer was presenting.

The solution to this problem is to conduct a site survey of the courtroom prior to trial. Your litigation support person or a hired “hot seat” tech can visit the courtroom and sketch the layout, verify the location and number of electrical outlets, and measure the distance between the jury box and where the proposed screen will go. Most importantly, he or she must bring a laptop to test the equipment and sound system. In the example cited above, the lawyers could have asked the court for permission to bring in a supplemental screen as well as speakers to help the audio. Rental costs can be shared among the parties so the expenses aren’t cost prohibitive.

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