Philadelphia’s High-Tech Courtroom

This is what I do. I set up this type of system in regular courtrooms. It is even better when it is an installed system, because you don’t have tape running everywhere covering wires, and you can usually get the geometry set up better (since you can rearrange while you are installing).

I don’t agree with everything here, though. I’ve seen a lot of these installations (the Northern District of Texas, for example, already has one at each courthouse and is working to convert every court.) The real trick comes in getting one thing into the attorney’s heads — you can practice law well, or you can run the lightshow well, but you can’t do either if you try to do both.

The orientations included separate sessions for judges and attorneys. The sessions for attorneys covered everything from how to use the technology in the courtroom to the impact of the technology on trials to the mutual responsibilities the technology places on attorneys and the court.
Again, the attorney is not the one to have running the show. If you have a tiny case, yeah, the attorney can handle it alone. When you have a big case with a lot of documents, the attorney doesn’t keep track of all the exhibits — he has his paralegal do that. This is the same way. Once the trial gets to the size that justifies using this technology, it is already big enough that it is too big for the attorney to handle himself without his ability to practice law suffering.
The technological problems most attorneys are going to have to worry about are not major concerns about malfunctions and such but the tiny issues that could get a lawyer off-kilter in the middle of presenting a case, Lederer said. For example, he said, the computer screen will go blank, or “sleep,” if no key is hit on the keyboard in a certain amount of time. A blank screen could cause an attorney to panic, Lederer said, so it is important to remember to program your computer in its settings to not sleep during trial.

“Your success or failure as a high-tech litigator is a matter of learning to use the system correctly,” Lederer said. “The little problems can be very disruptive.”

No. Your success or failure at a high-tech litigator is a matter of hiring someone else who knows how to use the system correctly.

If an attorney is going to try to use it himself, then the only way to make it work is to use the document cameras rather than a laptop. It is quick, and it looks like crap, but it is the only reliable way.

My laptop doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t make any noises other than the audio that I specifically play back. It doesn’t use any hardware acceleration on the video. Why? Because it is a machine tuned for courtroom presentation. That makes it a terrible machine for an attorney to use. You can tune it for practicing law, or presenting information, but not both.

Maybe the most important aspect of a technology-focused trial presentation is the visual effect on the judge and jury, according to Lederer. Most people are visual learners, he said. Attorneys already take advantage of that fact using things like diagrams, but there is almost no simpler way to organize and present information than on a computer, he said.

“The best reason for using technology is that it improves the odds that your factfinder will learn and understand,” Lederer said.

Lederer said that there are high-end computer programs to use for a trial but that a slideshow program such as PowerPoint could suffice in many situations.

In fact, Lederer said he did not have any evidence that the party with the most money, and therefore the highest-quality graphics, has any advantage before a jury.

“No matter how good your technology may be, you won’t win if the evidence isn’t there,” he said. “In certain cases, you’re better off with the simpler, more primitive stuff. It’s clear, not confusing.”

This isn’t an issue of money. This is an issue of knowledge. You aren’t going to get good results using a tool that isn’t applicable, but you are going to get better results if you know how to use the right tool. There are lots of “click jockeys” that we hire to push buttons in the courtroom. I have my job because I know how to visually present information. It isn’t true that most people are visual learners — that is a misconception brought about by lumping kinetic learners (people who learn by watching things move around) in with visual learners. If your presentation is static, you have caught the visual and auditory learners, and missed the kinetic learners. That is the sort of thing that makes the difference.
The use of technology also brings up new variations on evidentiary issues, Lederer said. For example, labeling a graphic in a certain way, such as writing “incision that caused injury” on a medical diagram, could be considered leading, or putting the image of an expert witness in videotaped testimony on a larger-than-life screen could be considered unfair prejudice.

Lederer said it is probably time to codify the rules on digital evidence.

It is codified. If it a scan of an exhibit, it is parole evidence. If it is anything else, it is demonstrative evidence. If you put a zippy title (like that example) on it then you have to follow all the same rules as if you had put that on the top of a foamcore poster. Changing the media does not change the rules about the information.
One attorney who attended Wednesday’s session, Gerald W. Spivack of Spivack & Spivack, said he found it necessary to his practice to learn about the new courtroom.

“I’m excited about the possibility of improving my ability to try a case,” said Spivack, who focuses on the areas of negligence, professional liability and workers’ compensation on the part of injured parties. “I feel I have to have my exhibits prepared in such a way that they can be shown on screen. In the past I’ve used an exhibit book. This is much better and more efficient.”

But Spivack said he and almost anyone else who tries a case in Courtroom 625 will need some hands-on training beforehand.

“I’ve only just learned to use a computer. We’re all going to need practice,” he said.

He sees the issue — that is the first step. He just needs to see that he isn’t the person who needs to worry about learning it.

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