When you step before a judge and jury these days, counselor, you're not in Perry Mason's courtroom anymore. In state and federal courts around the country, attorneys will find it easier to utilize audio, visual, and computer equipment to tell a story to juries. Whether you're trying a civil or criminal case, the impact that these tools can have on your case can be well worth the effort.
Technology Is For Any Size Firm
Whether you're a solo practitioner or work at a big firm, the advantages of using gadgets to enhance your courtroom presentation are too great to pass up. You want your case to have the best possible outcome for your client. Being able to display a wound after accident, highlight the critical details in a contract, or reconstruct an accident are things that the jury expects to see. They remember the O.J. Simpson trial and probably watch Court TV more than they'll candidly admit. We live in the MTV generation where people -- juries, judges, and clients -- expect that when they go to court, they will have a visual and dramatic experience. That's why slide shows, projectors, video, and audio can help your case.
Real-Time Transcription And Screening Options From The Bench
Advances in courtroom technology allow counsel to follow witness testimony at the same time that the court reporter is transcribing the case. Another critical tool in a tech savvy court is a "kill switch" that allows the judge to prevent the display of disputed material to the jury until objections are raised and the court decides whether to admit it into evidence.
Prepare Ahead Of Time
Check with the courts in your jurisdiction to see what technology options are available. The court is almost certain to have technology personnel available to explain and familiarize your legal team with what's available in the court, and how to use the system. Schedule time to test your equipment out to make sure that it's compatible, far in advance of trial.
In New York, the Commercial Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York operates a pioneering Courtroom 2000 containing the latest in courtroom technology.
However, you don't necessarily have to be a big city lawyer for access to a high tech courtroom. From small towns in Ohio to the cold frontier of Anchorage, Alaska, tech-savvy courtrooms are growing like never before. Several courts in New York, Delaware and California provide wireless Internet access for the presenting attorneys, which allows them to interact with the office during a trial.
For example, edits to pleadings can be communicated directly from the courtroom to the office. Printers are connected to the wireless system, and attorneys can make last-minute print outs in the courtroom. Court reporter transcripts also go out over the networks, and are often sent back to expert witnesses and war rooms at remote locations.
Make Friends With An 'ELMO'
Many attorneys use an ELMO document presenter to showcase a picture or chart in court. We're not referring to the Sesame Street character, but to an overhead projector that allows you to display documents, slides, and other imagers to the judge and jury. The lay public and legal professionals are generally very keen on the ELMO's ability to blow up an image so the jury can easily see it, and follow a presenter's pointing device to highlight particular details.
Work With Tech Consultants
You're an attorney. Your job is to understand the law and litigate effectively. By hiring the services of an experienced tech consultant to guide you through the gadgetry, you are likely to save considerable time and energy preparing for trial, and increase your comfort level with all the tools that you'll need to use. Just like the law, high-impact equipment is only as good as the person who knows how to use it.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Be sure that you're comfortable running through a visual presentation before your big day in court. Go through as many dry runs as it takes until you feel comfortable using the equipment, or be able to work seamlessly with others on your legal team to help you put it all together. There is a firm in Anchorage, Alaska that teaches attorneys how to use trial presentation software, flat panel plasma TV monitors, and organize documents for displaying to the jury. They also rent rooms to attorneys near court so they can practice their presentations before mock juries and judges in a courtroom-like setting.
Focus On The Big Picture
If you're going to be using high tech visual aids, use tools that will highlight the critical parts of your case. A personal injury case may likely require X-rays, MRI's, or other medical images that highlight your client's damages or defenses. Be sure that the evidence you want to introduce can be easily visualized by the jury, and that you're able to zoom, scan, and manipulate the ability to view the image.
Prepare For The Unexpected
There's a version of Murphy's Law that applies to using your gadgets in court. When you most need to display a medical image, reconstruct an accident, show a crime scene, or project a document to show compare signatures in a hotly contested probate dispute, something is likely to go wrong. Stuff happens. That's why you should always keep backup CDs, another notebook computer, a spare AC adapter, etc. Imagine the look on your client's face when you're at a crucial stage in the case, something goes wrong, and you don't have a backup plan ready. Things are likely to get downright ugly. Reduce the risk by being prepared.
Leave A Lasting Impression
Technology can never make the case without you, counselor. You've got to know how the law applies to the facts of your case, and feel confident about making winning arguments for your client. Finally, if you treat every jury with the respect they expect and deserve, you should do just fine.