Presentation Tools: Comparing Trial Director III and Sanction II
By Peter Phaneuf
VERDICT SYSTEMS L.L.C. and inData Corp. are both Arizona-based companies that have developed litigation support software packages for electronic trial presentations. Verdict Systems' Sanction II and inData Corporation's Trial Director III both are designed to help legal professionals present evidence during trials, mediations, arbitrations -- or in almost any situation where evidence is loaded onto a computer and presented to an audience.
Sanction II, released on July 7, 2001, and Trial Director III, released on December 1, 2001 are very similar. Both allow users to present documents, video, animations, charts, and graphics. These software programs offer more power than basic presentation software such as Microsoft Corp.'s PowerPoint, because the two programs allow data to be stored on a Microsoft Access database. That allows users to locate and retrieve any exhibit at any time.
The most recent versions have added basic data fields, such as date, author, type of document, etc. to increase the speed and accuracy of retrieval.
Here's a brief comparison and contrast of these software programs.
Trial Director and Sanction both require an activation code. However, Sanction's process is more streamlined and user friendly. Sanction sends the user a number (via e-mail or with the CD), which the user can reuse each time the software is reinstalled. In contrast, Trial Director requires a new number for each installation, albeit the current version does allow the user to retrieve the activation code via the Web.
Installation of Sanction does not require a reboot, as it does not overwrite Windows files, whereas Trial Director does require a reboot if your operating system files are not up to date. The reboot also adds a file to the system tray/startup folder.
The main screen for both software packages is similar, yet the exhibit organization function is handled differently Sanction uses a tree view to organize a case. The case name is written at the root of the tree. Beneath the roots are four main categories: documents, color images, video, transcripts, and other exhibits. There are categories for searches, temporary items and presentations. At the base of the tree there are five tabs: main screen; clip creator (for segmenting videotapes); coding; find/query; and transcript search. Clicking the mouse on any of the items reveals the detail for that item in the middle pane. The item itself appears in the right pane.
Trial Director utilizes two panes rather than three, and uses tabs to organize the exhibits by type. The tabs at the bottom are: All (displays everything but the video clips), Docs, Photos, Clips (video clips with text), Media (video/animation without text), OLE, and Coding. Icons distinguish different item types.
Features in the Main View
Both software packages have many similar functions such as printing, user folders and scanning, but there are some subtle differences between the two. Trial Director printing and scanning functions have an edge over Sanction.
For example, when asked to place a bar code onto an image, Trial Director shrinks the image slightly and places the bar code and other information, such as the document ID and the page ID into the footer. By contrast, Sanction places the bar code over the image. This can be problematic if the bar code is inadvertently placed upon an area that is either dark or covers an important part of the image.
The scanning function is handled well with Trial Director and Sanction. Both software packages permit the name of the image to be created during the scan process, and both can utilize any twain-compliant scanner. Trial Director allows the user to define footer content, such as a bar code and/or the page ID.
Adding items to the case is handled in a similar fashion with Trial Director and Sanction. Both software packages can use load files, although Sanction has the capability to load from more formats; both can drag and drop items from Windows Explorer. Trial Director cannot import a Sanction database but Sanction can import a Trial Director databases.
Coding and Queries
Both software packages have a number of basic data fields for coding objects. Fields such as, date, author, recipients, issues, description are available. The software differs in data importation. Ken Marchese, litigation support manager for Steptoe & Johnson, says the import/export capability is one of the best features Sanction has to offer. "We use Sanction as a filter to import and export files for many of our applications." Marchese recently completed a six-week trial at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., using Sanction throughout the proceeding. (See Technology on Trial, LTN, November 2001.)
Both software packages integrate well with Summation (from Summation Legal Technologies Inc., of San Francisco). If Summation's iBlaze is used concurrently with Trial Director, Trial Director becomes a window inside iBlaze and the individual features of both software packages become intertwined. For example, when a query is conducted in iBlaze, one can see results in the Trial Director image viewer, which allows the user to present the image immediately.
Sanction can add and display documents directly from iBlaze in the presentation mode. The user can import an iBlaze summary field directly into Sanction's coding fields and add existing transcripts. In addition, the user can create media clips directly from iBlaze and display synchronized text directly in the iBlaze transcript window.
Both companies concede that their software does not integrate as well with Concordance as it does with Summation. Both are working on new releases that make the integration tighter. Currently, Trial Director integrates with Concordance by using Concordance's CPL language to send information to display images. Sanction can be used as an image viewer for Concordance also using CPL language.
Neither program is designed to replace Summation, or Concordance, or any other heavy-duty litigation database software. However, the functionality is sufficient for "smaller" cases or those that do not require more than 15 fields.
There are many features unique to each software package. In the presentation mode, Sanction allows the user to customize the tool bar. Snapshots can be created from video files.
There is a feature in Sanction entitled "exhibit studio." This is a PowerPoint-like feature that helps users create bullet lists and timelines that link to exhibits. This is a basic function and although it does not replace PowerPoint, it gives the user some capabilities without having to alternate between PowerPoint and Sanction. For example, the exhibit studio can also create a text clip from which the user can create an exhibit from a question and answer on a transcript.
The most interesting difference between Sanction and Trial Director is not a function, but rather the fact that live telephone technical support is free with Sanction. Live technical support is free with Trial Director for the first 30 days. When asked about the free technical support, a Sanction representative indicated it was company policy to produce trouble-free software that does not require a lot of technical support.
Trial Director has its own unique features. Users can create an index of the transcripts, then print out a word index report. Cases can be secured with passwords and encryption. Cases can also be administered by assigning differed security levels, IDs and passwords. For beginners, there is a quick start wizard that provides a preview of what is available. In the presentation mode, the background color can be changed and there is an undo for the display items and annotations. This is a user friendly feature in that items are easily moved from zone to zone by clicking and dragging.
One of the most impressive differences is Trial Director's integration with PowerPoint. Not only can the user embed Trial Director's presentation window into PowerPoint, but also when the user creates a call-out from a document, it extends beyond the embedded window onto the PowerPoint slide.
Stability is another issue that I would have liked to address in this article, however I have not had Trial Director III long enough to test its stability compared to Sanction. In the past it has been my experience that Sanction is more stable then Trial Director.
Both products are state-of-the-art software that provide powerful technological systems for trial presentation. Now that inData's price for Trial Director has dropped to the same range as Sanction, deciding which software to use has become more difficult. With inData's latest release of Trial Director, the company has caught up and in many aspects surpassed Sanction as far as features are concerned. So based on features alone, you can't go wrong with either software product.
Peter Phaneuf runs the electronic multimedia division of Litigation Communications, Inc., based near Washington.