Technology Failure in the Courtroom is a Lawyer’s Worst Nightmare
Imagine this scenario: A legal firm spends months, or even years, preparing a case for trial. They carefully review all relevant case law, analyze the fact pattern and familiarize themselves with every aspect of the case. The trial date arrives and they are confident.
But are they truly ready? Could they be overlooking a crucial aspect of preparation that would scuttle their entire presentation?
If they haven’t prepped their technology, they may very well be.
Vital Courtroom Tool
Trials occur in high-profile settings, often with media attention. When things go wrong, it can tarnish the reputation of an entire firm and cost the client the case.
Despite the boom in the use of technology (i.e. laptops, presentation software, etc.), its potential has been hindered by courtroom inefficiencies, an absence of internal policies and a lack of enforceable standards. Many large firms are missing internal guidelines for courtroom technology, leaving them and their reputation vulnerable to more technologically adept competitors.
Managing the Volume of Data
The frequency of poor data management within eDiscovery showed us that tech issues can only worsen when you add large volumes of complex data. Today, lawyers risk complacency by thinking everything is simply a click away. Project management, electronic file processing, video clipping and technical workflow, as well as testing and setup of equipment—all benefit from early discussion and planning.
Through the aid of an experienced trial technician, one who understands the technical requirements and procedural nuances of presenting, firms can better prepare for trial and reduce the risk of complications. Legal teams that do not take their technology obligations seriously, however, seal their own fate.
Here are five horror stories drawn from real cases in which law firms took their tech for granted.
1. Plan, Prepare and Present or Risk the Firm’s Reputation
The Horror: A law firm failed to do technological due diligence before trial. Suddenly, their computer crashed, unredacted exhibits were displayed and they appeared completely unprepared. The trial was blown. They lost the case and took a huge reputational hit.
The Moral: Identify and plan around your technology needs as early as possible. Consider creating internal minimum levels of support for your firm or a trial planning committee that involves attorneys and staff to ensure that the correct level of service is afforded to your legal teams.
2. Make Sure Your People Can Work Their Equipment or Risk Looking Lost
The Horror: A law firm sent an associate to present their case in court. The associate knew how to pull exhibits up onscreen, but didn’t know how to connect his computer to an external monitor or configure to the court’s resolution. With fear taking over, the associate had a choice: Ask for help in open court or admit he wasn’t prepared. Moreover, because the presentation wasn’t tailored to the technical limitations of the courtroom, it looked unprofessional and was ultimately illegible.
The Moral: Make sure the presenter—no matter who it is—is familiar with the equipment before court day. Perform a site visit to the courtroom in advance of the trial to test all equipment and the appearance of the presentation. Make sure to test the legibility of your graphics and fonts used for the distances in the courtroom you will be in.
3. Align Your Team or Risk Being Counted Out
The Horror: A partner at a law firm thought he didn’t need to refine his communication strategy or develop a common reference for his exhibits (i.e., use the exhibit number) before trial. In the courtroom, his technician couldn’t follow the partner’s display instructions when he was asked to display “the memo.” Even the partner didn’t know the exhibit numbers, because his outline referenced the documents by names that only he knew.
The Moral: Go through a few outlines prior to trial to ensure your team’s communication strategy is aligned and always agree beforehand on the use of exhibit numbers when referring to documents. Be sure to provide your trial outlines to your tech team as early as possible so they can cross-check exhibit references and make sure all electronic files are in the presentation system.
4. Make Sure Your Equipment Works or Risk Looking Incompetent
The Horror: A lawyer fumbled with his equipment in the courtroom so much that the judge instructed him to turn off his computer. The judge pointed across the room and said, “You need to ask the opposing tech very nicely to put up some of your exhibits. I’m tired of your crashes slowing us down.” Mortified, the lawyer turned to face his opponent and asked softly, “May we please use your trial tech?”
The Moral: Run through your presentation beforehand with the equipment you plan on using. If you don’t, you could find yourself at the mercy of the opposing party.
5. Beware of Technical Burden Shifting at Trial!
The Horror: The opposing counsel’s technician not only held the courtroom setup hostage, but failed to deliver electronic exhibits in the industry standard format specified by the court. The legal team was implicated in a long string of technical noncooperation that resulted in a jury instruction, and the opposing legal team learned that their own tech was undermining them from the beginning.
Trial presentation technology can either be an invaluable tool, or a final nail in the coffin for legal firms.
The Moral: When both legal teams should perform their technical responsibilities competently so that the trial can run smoothly. Unfortunately, legal teams are often shocked to find out about their trial tech’s nefarious behavior. Staff your case with experienced trial technologists, consider a third-party vendor for equipment rental, and lastly, designate a member of the legal team to document the opposing party’s bad behavior so your team doesn’t suffer from burden shifting.
Trial presentation technology can either be an invaluable tool, or a final nail in the coffin for legal firms. By teaching colleagues the skills, workflows and techniques necessary to present exhibits in court, trial technicians can further solidify their standings in a legal firm and help their team avoid a courtroom nightmare.
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