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August 18, 2014 Articles

The Future Is Now: Using Interactive Technology for Today's Courtroom

A modern jury will benefit from incorporating the latest devices into your presentation.

By Chris Broyles

We are just over one year away from the date on which 1989’s Back to the Future 2 had Marty McFly revisit Hill Valley in the future to save his kids. When Doc Brown punched in October 21, 2015, on his classic DeLorean time machine, we were welcomed to a world of hoverboards, holographic movie placards, and some downright silly sci-fi fashion choices. What is amazing, of course, is that some of the movie’s prescient concepts have indeed come true in the 25 years since the movie was released: hands-free/controller-free gaming (via Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect), a media-wide technological playground for all things 3D, a world of a 1,000 TV channels, handheld tablets, wall-mounted screens, an MLB team in Miami, and a general heads-down obsession with personal computers and devices.

As fun as it is to look at this movie now (and to think ahead to 2015 and beyond), it is very interesting to see how some of this technology has not only come to be but is now being used by professionals in all walks of life, including in our industry. Litigation consultants and presentation consultants are currently brainstorming and adapting some of these ideas (once thought of as far-fetched) into means of helping attorneys and their support teams better tell their stories to the triers of fact in courtrooms around the country.

While the content of any given case might be thought of as highly technical and advanced, it’s important to remember that the fear of the “s” word no longer applies . . . and that is worrying about appearing too “slick” for a judge or jury. With more content crawling around the borders and margins of a TV screen on any given SportsCenter segment on ESPN, or an update on a world event on CNN, people are inundated with motion graphics and media. On top of general acceptance of all things graphical on a TV screen, we’ve also become accustomed to seeing such tools used in a courtroom (some continue to blame the now-decade old theory of the “CSI Effect,” once popularized as the reason that unfair expectations of forensic presentation in the courtroom exist). The continued advancement of technology presented by the actors in courtrooms on these shows, as well as real-life tales spun by cable-news talking heads, have continued to raise the expectations of what jurors want to see presented by counsel on behalf of their clients—criminal and civil alike. To play the befuddled role of a “country lawyer,” not sure how these “fancy computers work,” simply doesn’t fly anymore: Grandparents now Skype regularly with their grandchildren, and kids as young as four are surfing the web and playing social games like Minecraft on their own handheld devices.

In fact, Microsoft Research and its TouchDevelop program took part in the “Hour of Code,” a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming. Using an agnostic platform for iPhones, iPads, Android, or Microsoft devices, students were given an hour-long tutorial on how to program a touch-based app and program for their handheld devices. President Obama encouraged students during the initiative by telling them to “[not just] play on your phone; program it.” These lessons are important for us to recognize as we continue to develop educational tutorials, demonstratives, and evidence in the courtroom for adults. Our audiences are getting more and more savvy, and we’re selling them short if we don’t develop material that teaches the judge and jury in a manner to which they’re now accustomed.

To that end, and in a move that would make visualization guru Edward Tufte happy (“PowerPoint is evil”), we’re trying to move beyond a screen full of bullet points—and working with Windows-8-based touch-screen computers, iPads, Surfaces and tablets, wall-size interactive displays, and smart screens—taking presentations to the next level for attorneys and their witnesses. Tactile and interactive instruction is at the cornerstone.

While jurors might not get a purely “kinesthetic” (learning by touch) experience beyond handling the occasional physical exhibit, we are learning that multimodal learning, or teaching under the multimedia principle that there is a higher retention through a combination of words and pictures, is garnering measurable results in the academic world, showing that those engaged in multimodal education are outperforming others. Thus, the interactive displays/tutorials, 3D models, reenactments, and “day in the life” videos offer jurors the chance to go beyond reading a slide or simply listening to the attorney, and allow them to fully engage as you share the core themes of your case with interactivity to aid their retention and ultimately their understanding of your client’s story.

The bottom line is that there will always be a place for an exhibit board, a flip chart and easel, and papers under an ELMO document camera. A true “multimedia” presentation incorporating objects, paper, and computers breaks up the monotony of a courtroom and keeps jurors from doing grocery lists in their heads. But rest assured that if you start introducing more advanced technology to your audience in the form of interactive media and touch-screen displays, you’re not only going to draw them in closer by providing tools they now expect to see in a courtroom environment, you’re going to help them better retain the information and evidence you’re presenting.

So the future truly is now. What remains to be seen is the one final prediction Robert Zemeckis and the Back to the Future 2 screenwriters had for October 21, 2015: will the Chicago Cubs actually win the World Series next year as depicted in the movie? As their fans like to say, wait till next year . . .

Chris Broyles is a managing director with FTI Consulting in Chicago, Illinois.