Trial Tech Not Just For Juries
In jury trials it is commonplace for lawyers to use a professional trial tech—someone who has been to trial scores of times and whose job it is to create a trial presentation database, set up courtroom display equipment and run the presentations during trial. After all, when lawyers want to show a variety of media to the jury, it makes sense to use someone trained specifically to do that, and whose sole function at trial is to have the jury see exactly what you want at the right time, without any fumbling.
The success of using such professional services has led to a steady recognition that professionally run trial technology is no longer limited to jury trials. An experienced trial tech has an array of skills that provide valuable assistance for legal teams at a number of events.
Using Technology With Judges
A retired judge once said, “I used to hate the fact that juries got all the fun stuff.” He explained that while attorneys will give a jury the full audiovisual treatment (especially at opening and closing), they sometimes assume that such techniques would be out of place in a bench trial or hearing, thereby forcing judges to rely solely on verbal arguments. He was always puzzled by this and could not understand why lawyers were reluctant to use the same technology in bench trials.
The retired judge pointed out that lawyers should alter the content of the visual presentation for a judge (probably fewer visual analogies, icons, etc.), but he indicated that “judges—and this is something that some attorneys unfortunately forget—are people, too.” They want to find the fastest way to get a full understanding of the issues (factual and legal). Judges, like everyone else in the courtroom ,want evidence to be displayed in an efficient, focused and professional manner.
Many judges, like many jurors, are visual learners, who do not entirely get it until they can physically see what the attorneys are talking about. Judges like the live action of video deposition and simple buildable graphics, as opposed to a monotonous, imageless presentation. Judges hate it when you waste their time and see nothing endearing when you do not know how to immediately fix a technology problem—and something will always go wrong. They pay attention when a salient exhibit or deposition designation is shown on the screen. Putting an exhibit on the screen and blowing up the relevant section will demand the judge’s attention. Displaying the exact deposition testimony, rather than pausing to find the printed version, will likewise be appreciated and far more memorable for the judge. Smoothly presenting evidence via technology is the essence of what a good trial tech does—he is the conduit between your argument and the supporting evidence reaching the audience, whether that audience is a jury or a judge.
Another thing that judges appreciate just as much as juries do, and perhaps even more, is efficiency—having the presentations move quickly and smoothly, without unnecessary delay. Nowhere is this more important than at a key hearing. The outcome of these arguments can greatly affect the scope and issues of trial. Making sure the judge sees exactly what you want her to see is crucial because there may not be a second chance. Organized and easily accessible materials in a trial presentation database will give an advantage on this front. Instead of thumbing through binders, the trial tech can display evidence on a screen with the pertinent portions already highlighted. A trial tech also allows for the flexibility to call up things on the fly if the judge asks questions.
Cases resolved exclusively by judges are particularly suited for use of trial tech—for example, declaratory judgment cases interpreting the terms of a contract, Markman hearings, equitable cases or other disputes that turn on interpretation of documents. Judges in these proceedings want to have quick access to key documents and follow them as arguments are made or testimony is given. A well-trained trial tech is able to not only bring these key pieces of related evidence up on a screen, but can sync them with other supporting material such as video deposition segments.
If the case is primarily driven by showing information in documents, these techniques can be particularly cost-effective because they reduce the number of professionally prepared graphics needed.
In our media-saturated age, people are drawn to look at a screen when something appears on it. A trial tech takes advantage of this because he can highlight and zoom in on exactly what you want the jury to see. Having a trial tech display key documents and deposition excerpts engages the jury and appeals to visual learners. A good trial tech can often load exhibits and depositions into a presentation database a few days before trial, so pretrial investment will remain low on cases that may settle. Also, experienced trial techs are adept at calling things up on the fly, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time (and money) preparing everything you want to show in court.
Mock Trials and Focus Groups
Trial teams are also increasingly including a professional trial tech in mock trials and focus groups instead of a legal assistant or junior associate. Mock trials and focus groups not only gather important data about how potential jurors react to the case, but they also provide a valuable dress rehearsal. To take full advantage of this, trial teams are increasingly insisting that the trial tech who will be in court also participate in the mock trial.
Another advantage is the professional trial tech gives mock jurors a more realistic view of what will be shown at trial, thereby making the comments offered to be similar to those experienced by the real jurors. Specifically, professional trial techs specialize in quickly editing video deposition testimony, which can be presented to the mock jury to test reactions to witnesses.
Finally, the professional trial tech makes sure that everything flows smoothly and without unnecessary interruption. The most valuable aspect of the mock trial is to watch the mock jurors deliberate. The least valuable part is wasting time while someone fumbles around trying to fix unexpected problems.
These events are similar to hearings in that they require maximum efficiency. Because of this, the presenter needs to pack a lot of information into a short period of time. Unfortunately, because such exercises often occur at the same time you are preparing for the trial, preparation time can be very limited. With these tight time frames, any time lost because of technical difficulties is a missed opportunity to gain important insight and wastes your client’s money. Having a professional trial tech run the show greatly improves the chance that you’ll get the most out of your limited, and costly, time with the mock jurors.
Due to wide-ranging courtroom experience, most trial techs have great insight into how to prepare evidence for trial. They can consult with paralegals after discovery to help finalize the Summation or Concordance databases so they can smoothly transition to a trial presentation database. Trial techs can also suggest presentation equipment, scout courtrooms to help determine the optimal arrangements and set up the display equipment. It only takes one blown projector bulb or one missing cable for you to realize that nobody on your team is a true A/V technician. Trial techs can also train staff members who are planning to run presentations in court, or help them design trial databases to more easily display information in court. On cases with tight budgets or with limited technology needs, using a trial tech for certain events is wise: Running the opening and closing presentation, creating video deposition clips, and acting as a consultant and backup if a paralegal runs the trial presentation.
So while running the show at a jury trial will always be in a trial tech’s wheelhouse, making a good presentation of your evidence isn’t just for jurors anymore.
This article is reprinted with permission from the December 5, 2011 issue of The Recorder. ©The Recorder, ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
Appeared in The Recorder
December 05, 2011