Computer Counselor - May 2000
Courtroom Multimedia Gets Cheaper and More Reliable
Competition for a jury's attention as well as the need to organize lead to multimedia
By Daryl Teshima
Daryl Teshima is a practice systems attorney for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
In this era of Court TV and Ally McBeal, trial attorneys cannot survive on words alone. With merely a few days to familiarize juries with complicated concepts, lawyers preparing for trial have not just resorted to images-in many instances they have gone Hollywood. Smoking guns now flash across huge television monitors in courtrooms, and witnesses are confronted with videotape replays from their own depositions. For many years, such productions required blockbuster budgets that only large-firm clients could pay. As the independent film movement has demonstrated, however, winning presentations no longer require mile-deep pockets. Technological advances have lowered obstacles to such an extent that solo attorneys and small firms can now create effective multimedia courtroom presentations that compete with what the big firms do.
Multimedia applications also make evidence much more portable. Instead of herding paralegals and junior associates and their ample cargo of documents, charts, easel, and projector into a courtroom, a tech-savvy attorney can present information and exhibits with two TV monitors, a single three-ring binder, and a laptop computer. In such a system, digital versions of documents and depositions are associated with bar codes that are printed on labels that can be pasted into traditional trial notebooks and outlines. To display a piece of evidence, the attorney swipes a reader similar to those found in retail stores over a bar code. Within seconds, the image is displayed on a monitor or projected onto a screen. This fast access helps keep the pace of questioning constant, avoiding delays in front of the jury and giving adversaries less time to think.
The decision to use electronic media, however, must not be made on the eve of trial. Transforming key documents, case exhibits, and deposition transcripts into digital images takes preparation. Much of the work is routine, but it cannot be done overnight. For example, scanning documents is fairly simple, but the most cost-effective option usually is to outsource the job. It costs around 15 cents per page to image a document. The vendor typically delivers the scanned images in TIFF format on a CD-ROM. And, to the relief of lawyers who are tired of carrying boxes of documents to trial, approximately 10,000 images can be stored on one CD-ROM. Scanning services can generate printouts of their scans, called "blow backs," usually for no additional cost.
Each digital document can be coded (by such criteria as author, date, subject, document type, and so on) and filed into a database. As with scanning, the best option for basic bibliographic coding usually is a vendor, and most vendors that scan legal documents can code them also. The cost of coding can range anywhere from $1.50 to $2 per document. For an additional amount, a vendor can run each document through an optical character reader (OCR) that will turn the image into searchable text, but this process is typically a waste of money because of the inaccuracy of OCR software. Once the document images are coded, litigation support products such as Summation (www.summation.com) and Concordance (www.dataflight.com) can make the information searchable.
At first glance, the out-of-pocket cost of outsourcing imaging and coding may appear prohibitive and may cause some attorneys to consider doing it themselves. A good scanner costs less than $500, and paralegals or other staff can code documents, but most scanners sold at retail sources are slow and can consume countless hours of attorney and staff time. In addition, assigning coding duties to staff often produces inconsistent results. Coding vendors, on the other hand, have personnel skilled at coding documents consistently and accurately. When cost is an issue, a litigator may want to scan and code only those documents that are likely to be used in trial.
Multimedia presentations, however, can do much more than put a picture of an insurance claim on a screen. Demonstrative evidence can also be transferred, often easily, to the attorney's courtroom computer because graphical exhibits and animations are typically created on a computer in the first place. Producing demonstrative evidence in digital format eliminates printing costs and creates the potential for litigators to alter the presentation while in court in response to evidentiary objections.
The digital approach also applies to videotaped depositions. As with scanning and coding, it is often cost-effective to outsource. A lawyer, however, can perform an essential task in the preparation of a taped deposition for trial by flagging sections. The court reporter or videographer should be able to make digitized clips of the flagged portions for replay at trial.
Attorneys who have experienced computer crashes at inopportune times should know that trial presentation applications have matured and are easier to use and more reliable. It may make economic sense to limit the amount of scanning, coding, and videotaping that is performed in preparation for trial, but to cut corners with hardware is to court disaster. Most attorneys, however, cannot afford to buy the latest state-of-the-art laptop for use at a trial. The attorney who cannot buy or borrow a reliable, well-equipped laptop may consider renting. A good multimedia laptop can be rented for around $500 per month.
The lawyer's desktop computer can serve as the base for preparation, and the laptop can be rented only for the trial. Unpleasant surprises can be avoided by budgeting some time before trial to make sure that all necessary data, peripherals, and applications work as they should on the laptop. If a computer rental firm does not offer reliable machines, good support, and fast replacement, find one that does.
Another piece of equipment that may be more cost-effective to rent is an LCD projector, which can project an image shown on a laptop onto a screen big enough for everyone in the courtroom to view. Although the monthly rental charge is high (approximately $1,000), it can cost from $5,000 to $10,000 to buy a projector. If possible, rent or purchase an LCD projector that has a digital camera that can be used to display paper documents. This will eliminate the need for an overhead transparency projector. Toshiba makes an LCD projector, the TLP-651, that has a digital camera and weighs less than 10 pounds. The price is $7,995.
Before using technology during trial, take note of the limitations that the court and courtroom impose. Make sure the courtroom can handle the technology needed to display exhibits, documents, and graphics. You should discuss the requirements with the clerk before trial and try to arrange a time to test the facilities. When scouting the courtroom, be sure to check the following:
Distances. Get a sense of the distances separating the jury box, the bench, the witness stand, and counsel tables. Make sure that the judge and jury will have a clear view of the evidence.
Monitors. How many monitors will be needed, and where can they be placed? Often you will need to provide a monitor for the judge and opposing party. And if you are using an LCD projector to display images, choose a location that can be viewed by all.
Power Outlets. Where are they, and how many are available in the courtroom? How long will the extension cord need to be, and how many power strips should be brought to court?
Lighting. Will lights have to be dimmed in order for all trial participants to see the television or LCD projections? Can the lights be dimmed gradually, or will it be pitch dark? If the latter, bring pen flashlights. Some courts may not allow lights to be dimmed for security reasons. If this is the case, LCD projectors may not be a viable option.
Sound. If you plan on showing videotape or digitized video, be sure to investigate the courtroom's sound system, if one exists. That $1,000 video clip can be worth little or nothing when the sound plays on tinny speakers. If the court does not have a sound system, consider adding good speakers to your equipment list.
If the trial team is staying away from the office, the hotel is another important location to scout. The war room in a hotel can present some unexpected hurdles. Make sure the designated war room suite has phone lines to accommodate fax machines, modem connections, conference calls, and incoming calls. If the team brings a high-speed copier, will the suite's electrical system be up to the task? The suite's layout and furniture also will need review. Bring shelves and desks if necessary. Otherwise the trial team may be composing a rebuttal brief using the hotel bed as a desk. Above all, perform due diligence and check the actual suite rather than simply taking the hotel's business conference claims at face value.
Directing the Production
Presentation software ties everything together. The complexity of the presentation will determine which application to use. For simpler presentations, consider Microsoft's PowerPoint or Corel's WordPerfect Presentations. These applications are usually bundled in standard office suites and contain a library of graphics and designs that will give the presentation a uniform look. These programs embed images, photographs, charts, and video clips into the presentation. The problem with these programs is that they do not make it easy to display slides out of order. It is not impossible, but jumping to another slide can be difficult under the strain of a trial.
For more complex presentations, software that is specifically designed for trial presentation is in order. Such an application ties all evidentiary aspects together, accessing databases, projecting images and videos, and playing transcripts that are synchronized with deposition videotape. With trial presentation software, each image, exhibit, and deposition or portion thereof can be linked to a bar-code label that can be pasted into trial notebooks and outlines. Using a bar-code reader that attaches to the serial port of most computers, an attorney can display a file with the wave of a wand. In addition, trial presentation software can allow an attorney to alter, annotate, highlight, and edit images, even while they are being displayed.
Perhaps the most well known trial presentation software is Trial Director 2.0 by Indata Corporation (www.indatacorp.com), for which a single-user license costs $895. Trial Director gained headlines recently when it was used in the Microsoft antitrust case. Using Trial Director in conjunction with Summation, lead prosecutor David Boies, who reportedly is anything but adept with computers, was repeatedly able to find the right e-mail text to refute the testimony of Microsoft officials. Using Trial Director with the dual-monitor feature of-appropriately enough-Windows 98 or 2000, an attorney can display an image on one monitor while cueing exhibits on the other.
Another solid trial presentation software package is Visionary's Reviewer 3.5 (www.visionaryinfo.com, single-user license $995). Besides being able to display all types of evidence, this program allows litigators to create a digital trial outline that links images with issues.
Although Trial Director and Reviewer are mature and trial-tested, a careful litigator will be sure to have a backup plan to prevent a computer crash from sabotaging a case. Paper copies of key evidence should be on hand, or a spare laptop should be available in case the main computer takes an early recess. Planning for emergencies will help to ensure that your next trial presentation will play to rave reviews.