The Dawn of Digital Litigation: Media Tools in the Courtroom

The idea for many attorneys that they must now become some kind of Hollywood Producer to keep up with modern litigation techniques may invoke images of an ever-daunting future: a coming legal atmosphere, where cases are decided not just on matter of law and undisputed facts but on their production value as well. Now, more than ever, people prefer visual media for communication and learning. This includes judges, jury members, and even, the opposing side.

Litigation Media is developing much the same way that Hollywood studios began, by retaining production in-house. However, with today's micro-sized media technology, small firms can level the playing field. Here's how:

The Future Attorney/Producer

Whether you are in a firm with resources or you're a sole practitioner, still paying ten cents per copy, Litigation Media is within your grasp. If you decide to "self-produce" your litigation tools, the most common program would be PowerPoint. Utilizing the simple slideshow feature, distill your case down to its most powerful elements. Advanced users will know how to add wipes and fades, but even a slideshow with no special effects can have an immeasurable impact on information retention and persuasion.

Attorneys with advanced computer skills can also employ animation or desktop editing programs. Animation can create eye-popping presentations that will burn into the memory of the viewers. Editing software can create a video deposition montage (of the opposing side's contradictory testimony.) Check with the court beforehand, but many judges welcome an easy-to-digest version of your briefs, responses and submissions.

All attorneys should consider digitizing their documents a priori in a case. Having digitized documents adds enormous efficiency in the discovery process and case presentation. It also creates redundancy, so the chance of documents getting lost or destroyed is minimized. Digitizing is a simple process of scanning documents and creating a logical, consistent naming convention for file storage.

Current Litigation Software

Several new litigation media software packages are emerging, claiming to be the all-in-one solution. ("It's as easy as clicking a button!") However, reality means immersing yourself in software training and possibly retooling current internal processes to accommodate these out-of-the-box solutions.

Pre-packaged software is not an inherently bad thing, as long as you are prepared for the potential time investment. Some even prefer these structured programs, as they come ready with pre-designed organizational structures, naming conventions, databases and presentational tools.

Some of the presentational software you will find on the market includes:

The Confusion Strategy

Many software programs and consultants make attorneys feel they are missing the boat. By creating legal software jargon, they create a chasm of knowledge that defines them as experts (sound familiar?).

Below is a very brief list of some terms you may hear:

Your Litigation Producer

  • Determining the best fit for your practice takes a realistic evaluation of your internal processes.
  • Purchasing litigation software makes sense if: 1) you are comfortable with new computer programs and don't mind reading manuals; 2) you find your internal processes are a form of organized chaos and could use some structure; and/or 3) you know someone who is fluent in your software and will train you.
  • Retaining a consultant makes sense if: 1) you have an established internal legal process that you are not willing to revise; 2) you have a heavy caseload; and/or 3) you would rather spend your time doing what you do best, legal work, rather than creating litigation media yourself.

 

The Big Firm Studio

There are some obvious advantages for firms who retain production in-house. The main advantage is that firms with in-house production can manipulate their turn-around procedures, and production costs can be amortized among clients. However, the capital investment to create a "big firm studio" facility can be easily avoided by smaller firms. There is no need to compete on this level, because big firms are investing in the same technology already owned by consulting houses. In addition, large firm overhead increases with the need for additional in-house employees. Being nimble has its advantages, too.

Production Value

Remember the adage "you get what you pay for." Nowhere is that a truer statement than in production. Underpaying or cutting corners can rob a presentation of professionalism. However, overpaying does not necessarily guarantee the most innovative techniques. In production, there is a point of diminishing returns, either within the budget or with your time. You may only spend $500 on software, but spend 60 hours trying to use it. Conversely, you may think hiring the best production house will "clinch the case," when a simple PowerPoint presentation would do instead. Bottom line: Consider your audience, time constraints and what is at stake in the case, to determine how much media to produce.

Litigation Media Tools

Here is a run down of the most basic Litigation Media tools and the places where they can be effectively utilized:

  • Digital Slideshows
  • Interactive Timelines
  • Video Depositions
  • Forensic Animation
  • Trial "Motion Picture" Presentations

 

Can be used for:

  • Information Tutorials
  • Brief Attachments
  • Settlement Conferences
  • Pre-trial Hearings
  • Arbitrations
  • Trials

 

Conclusion

Visual communications have an undeniably powerful impact on litigation. Heidi VanHuysen, a lawyer with a boutique employment firm commented, "In every case that we have used multimedia, our client has responded as being beyond impressed. It has also been incredibly effective in educating the opposing side, even when they come from a top national firm." Isn't it time you took advantage of Litigation Media to benefit your clients and practice?

Courtesy of Kellie Q. Ryan, the Founder of Art of Law.