May It Please the Court: Things to Know When Using Trial Technology
Technology is an absolute given in the courtroom. No matter your venue, jurors expect to see multimedia, digital images, and a big screen (or at least a decent sized flat screen monitor).
I always make a recommendation to my clients to pony up the extra cost for trial technology, and while some balk in the beginning, once they see everything fall into place, they readily appreciate the added value. In fact, I have a client who recently said he’d never go to trial without it again.
But I don’t like for my lawyer clients to run their own technology show. My recommendation is to hire someone whose sole job is to handle everything from soup to nuts. There are many reasons, but the #1 reason is this: As a lawyer, isn’t the best use of that expensive law degree actual lawyering? Stick with what you know and do it well.
But, if you absolutely insist on being a DIY-er, or choose to work with someone who’s not seen a courtroom in a while, here are a few of my Courtroom Technology Best Practices.
Gather Intel on the Judge’s Preferences
Just because a courtroom has equipment does not mean the judge likes counsel to use all of the equipment. Or, that the courtroom equipment actually works as it should.
Whether you decide to wear the technology hat or outsource the task, always do some early recon on the judge to discover whether he encourages the use of technology, or whether he favors the old-school approach. The last thing you want to do is tick off the judge before you even start the legal proceedings.
Get the Lay of the Land
If you decide to use technology – whether it’s simply a laptop in a plug-and-play situation, or you’re bringing in all of your own equipment – schedule a site visit with the court. Do a walk-through. Assess the inside of the courtroom. Check the vantage point from the jury box, counsel table, witness stand, and the judge’s bench. I mean literally stand or sit in different parts of the courtroom to evaluate who can see what, and what – if anything – might get in the way of someone’s view. Especially that of the judge or jury.
Determine what you want, what you need, and what will actually fit in the space without obstructing anyone’s view. Sketch out your plan. Make a list of necessary equipment. And, most importantly, once you’ve determined what equipment you need, be sure to clear it with the court! Some judges are happy-go-lucky and welcome any and all technology; others are more persnickety and have very specific rules and expectations.
Do a Test Run
If you are bringing all of your own technology (projector, screen, monitors, etc.), be sure to schedule the actual setup with the court. If at all possible, schedule the setup at least one business day prior to the start of the proceedings. This provides wiggle room for unexpected surprises or scheduling delays.
If you’re planning to use your laptop with the court’s built-in system, for the love of all things holy, test the equipment! While often referred to as “plug-and-play” (because the courts already have the multimedia equipment in place and ready to go), do not – I repeat, do not show up 15 minutes before game time and assume you can literally plug-and-play. There are almost always glitches, and there is often a learning curve to figuring out how to jump from your laptop to the document camera and over to opposing counsel. Neither the judge nor his staff will not want to hold your hand through the process, so do your homework ahead of time.
Know your Stuff
Whether you show up in the courtroom with a basic PowerPoint, an iPad with hot exhibits, or a Trial Director database, know how to use the equipment you’re relying upon.
There is nothing that irritates jurors (or judges) more than counsel who wants to ride the technology horse but can’t handle the animal. Technology can be a burdensome beast, so don’t bite off more than you can chew.
And don’t take my word for it; check out these quotes from actual jurors:
- “[I] would have liked to see [the attorneys] operate the computers better.”
- “[The attorneys should] learn how to use equipment in advance.”
- “[I did not like the] technology problems, [and seeing all of the] power plugs …”
Trial technology is meant to complement your lawyering, but it’s so much more than an accessory. Good cases can become great with skillful and efficient use of technology, but a great case can go south really fast if the person operating the technology is perceived as someone who doesn’t really have a solid command of the skill. Bad technology detracts from the trial team’s otherwise solid courtroom strategy. Since perception is everything, why risk it?
So, I’ll repeat this once again: Lawyers should lawyer and leave the technology roles to trial technicians and courtroom operators who run trial tech for a living. However, if you absolutely must run your own show, I hope you’ll consider incorporating these tips into your practice.