An Old World Courtroom vs. New World Technology
Trial presentation consultants are relatively new members of the litigation support team. Part law clerk, part audio/visual geek and full-time courtroom roadie, the trial presentation consultant helps the attorney “put on the show” for the jury. Our company, New England Trial Services, often has helped set up and operate large multimedia presentations for billion- dollar trials. However, not every case needs a monitor for each juror, a wireless Internet connection for each counsel table or on-screen annotation tools for the witness stand.
Sometimes, a little goes a long way. Yet, because we often hear the comment, “I will use you when the case is big enough,” the challenge for us is to make trial presentation work for any case, regardless of size.
One law firm in Boston helped us demonstrate how courtroom presentation can be used anywhere, for any size case. Swartz & Swartz is a six-attorney firm housed in one of the oldest brick buildings in Boston, a structure once owned by John Hancock and located just blocks from the Old North Church. Two of the firm’s most experienced litigators, James A. Swartz and David P. Angueira, tried cases for years using all the old tools of the trade, including foam board blowups, VHS tape depositions and jury binders. During the past several years, however, they realized the success electronic trial presentation has in getting messages across to the jury.
A few years ago, the firm approached us with a dilemma.
Angueira was trying a wrongful death suit involving a cancer patient and needed a way to show pathology slides to the jury while his expert witness described what was being shown.
Because there were so many slides, making blowups of everything he needed would have been very expensive and time-consuming. He also needed the flexibility to move from one slide to another during examination, with the capability of pulling up any one slide out of hundreds in any order.
We convinced Angueira to have us scan photo enlargements created from the defendant’s slides to display the images using trial presentation software, in this case Sanction by Verdict Systems. We decided to use this program because Angueira was more comfortable with the program’s Microsoft Windows look and could better understand the process we used to build the database. With the program’s magnification and annotation tools, we were able to create a dynamic set of exhibits for display. At the same time, we took all the medical records, expert reports, pleadings and deposition transcripts, and some family photos of the victim and surviving relatives, and created a database of images and information for the attorney to call up at a moment’s notice.
Angueira also liked Sanction’s “Transcript Search” tab, which was useful for finding deposition testimony from the numerous defendants. Naming the images by the exhibit numbers as we scanned them in and saving them as multipage TIFF files made each document easy to call up. By right clicking on “Edit” under “List View,” we also added descriptions and Bates numbers to give three different ways to find an exhibit using the “Find/Query” tab.
By calling up a document in “Presentation Mode,” highlighting the relevant text and magnifying the relevant section, we were able to show the evidence quickly, avoiding the usual delays caused by trying to get the jury, judge and defense all on the same page of what would have been a three-volume set of exhibit books. Particularly effective were the family photos, which were used to show the jury the faces of the survivors during closing arguments. By presenting the case electronically, we were able to present evidence that normally would have taken a month or more to prepare and show. Instead, Angueira was able to prosecute the plaintiffs’ case in less than two weeks. Even the defense team was impressed — so much so that some of them have since become our clients.
Using the right trial presentation was only one challenging aspect of this case. In Boston, the Suffolk County Courthouse normally is housed in the historic John Adams Courthouse on Pemberton Square, just half a block from the State House. During the time of my client’s trial, however, the building was being renovated and the courthouse was being housed temporarily in the McCormack building. The building’s former law library served as a makeshift courtroom for the duration of the temporary stay. Although this building is a striking example of the Art Deco style popular during the Great Depression, it had not been modernized, so we knew we would have some challenges ahead of us in making any presentation technology work.
We had room for one laptop computer, one small Toshiba tabletop liquid crystal display projector, and a six-foot tripod screen that had to be moved each time the jury entered and exited. Since the room still had fixtures for gas lamps, finding electrical power outlets was tricky. We finally found an active AC outlet up the stairs and down the hall. We then had to run extension cords from that point all the way to our table.
Luckily, I learned long ago to carry ground plug adapters because we often find nongrounded AC outlets in Boston’s old buildings. It was a challenging set up, but because of space limitations, we were not tempted to rent massive amounts of electronics and spend an inordinate amount of money.
Tips for Trial Teams
You don’t always need to purchase costly trial presentation software such as Sanction or inData Corp.’s TrialDirector to show an effective presentation to a jury. There are a few inexpensive options available to create winning presentations. Some of the tools in Microsoft’s Office suite work quite well. For Swartz & Swartz, we often prepare exhibits with Sanction, using the annotation tools to highlight and blow up pages from exhibits. Then, we save the images using “Screen Capture.” These image files are added to Microsoft PowerPoint slides and shown during opening or closing arguments. Video deposition clips can be edited using the program included with the Digital Video Transcript created by inData Corp.’s TimeCoder Pro. They can then be shown using Windows Media Player, which also can display text as closed captions.
On Their Own
These days, the attorneys and staff at Swartz & Swartz like to do things for themselves. They now order synchronized DVD copies of video depositions instead of VHS tapes so they can view the witness, highlight the transcript and make their own video clips. They purchased a compact document scanner for small jobs in-house, which saves the expense of using a document imaging vendor for the large-volume jobs. They also purchased new laptop computers and a small presentation projector to go with the document camera they previously obtained. With these tools and a little assistance from us, the attorneys of Swartz & Swartz are bringing the newest resources to some of the nation’s oldest courtrooms.
Does this visual process sound like something your firm and client’s cases could benefit from? By all means, let us help you get set up and running. Contact us here or give us a call 617.894.4131