Your first high tech trial need not be an ordeal. With a little will power, ingenuity and preparation you can successfully launch your litigation into the late 20th century.
Start with a little mental preparation. Tell yourself (repeatedly if it helps) the one universal truth about courtroom technology: IT IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. If your confidence needs a further boost reflect on how well you mastered other first encounters with technology: riding a bike, driving a car, resetting the clock on your VCR. If you succeeded in at least one of these struggles you are ready for courtroom technology.
Next gather the simple tools needed for your first ordeal – oops, I mean trial.
- Projector and screen or monitors
- Document camera
- Cables to connect the above
- Extension cords
- Presentation software
Connect the hardware and you’ve got yourself an instant do-it-yourself high tech courtroom.
Load what you want to show to the court into the presentation software and you’re ready to go.
That’s all there is to it. Repeat: IT IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE.
With the hardware and software connected and working together you can use the technology to display exhibits such as photographs, maps, diagrams and demonstrative animations. The only limit is your imagination and the law of evidence.
The courtroom technology is especially effective in creating persuasive opening or closing arguments. The electronic evidence you loaded into the software can be easily cut and pasted into an effective and seamless story for the trier of fact.
Now you are ready to go here are five tips for first timers.
Tip 1 Choose the right case
Your first foray should be small. Look for a case with just a few exhibits that lend themselves to display using the technology. Don’t force the use of technology. Sometimes a large hardcopy map that is on constant display during the whole trial is more effective that showing it from your laptop. Make sure the technology will assist your case not detract from it.
Tip 2 Choose a simple a presentation software
I recommend Microsoft PowerPoint for first timers. The software is universally available. This is important because the court and the other side will at some point need to view the presentation that you file as exhibit. PowerPoint comes as part of the Microsoft Office package which all courts and counsel should have. For Mac lovers there is even a MS PowerPoint for Mac.
PowerPoint is very user friendly. While there are other very good software programs available in my experience PowerPoint is the simplest to use and most readily available.
Tip 3 Scope out your courtroom
Well before the trial scope out the courtroom.
If you are lucky enough to have one of the very rare purpose-built high tech courtrooms the only thing you’ll be looking for is where to plug in your laptop and how to turn on the display units which in most instances will be multiple monitors.
However the vast majority of Canadian courtrooms are ‘no-tech’ that you’ll have to retrofit. For those courtrooms your first decision will be how to display your electronic evidence or submissions. The choices are projector and screen or multiple monitors. Many courtrooms have awkward layouts which do not lend themselves to a single screen that everyone can see in which case monitors are the only alternative. Whatever your choice the goal is to make sure all concerned can see the display.
Wherever possible my preference, especially for a jury trial, is a projector and screen. The screen creates a central focal point for everyone. Monitors, unless very large, often don’t allow for sufficient detail.
Other things to look for when scoping out the courtroom include locating the electrical outlets, figuring out how to reduce trip hazards from the myriad cords and cables, and where to place the document camera if you’re using one.
At this stage thought should also be given to who will operate the technology. In mega trials with lots of electronic exhibits it pays to have a separate operator. For the vast majority of cases however, counsel with a little practice should easily be able to operate the equipment themselves.
Tip 4 Document camera
Set up a document camera if your case has small objects or hardcopies of documents or photographs that must be shown to the trier of fact.
Document cameras are merely new-fangled overhead projectors without the clear plastic flimsies. The unit consists of a video camera which is mounted on an arm and focused on a small bed below. The camera captures the image of the document or object on the bed. The captured image is then displayed on the screen or monitor.
Because it has the ability to magnify, the devise is very useful to display small objects. It can also be used to display and magnify hardcopies of documents and photographs.
Tip 5 Test and Practice
It is prudent to set up the equipment in the courtroom in advance and test it completely. While an office run-through is good it is no substitute for testing the set-up in the courtroom. The court’s setting, lighting or layout often hide unexpected surprises.
Practice displaying the exhibit and moving from image to image. If you are using a PowerPoint to open or close practice with a slide advancer so you don’t need to walk over to your computer every time you want to change slides.
It’s also a good idea to have a Plan B in case there is that very odd of occurrences: a glitch. There shouldn’t be any if you are fully prepared. However much like the old-fashioned trials that could be easily sidelined by a witness’ failure to attend counsel should have a back-up plan if the fuses all blow out or the projector bulb and the back-up bulb burn out.
From the wisdom of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy: DON’T PANIC