Whether Small or Large, Your Firm Can Build an Effective Electronic Trial Arsenal
Four reasonably priced, powerful tools can help novice and sophisticate alike in courtroom battles.
By Kevin M. Bell
LAW FIRMS no longer have the excuse that employing communication and electronic imaging technologies in the courtroom is too expensive and only affordable to the large, multi-national law firms. The concept of paperless trials, where paper is transformed into electronic images for computer-run presentations and electronic brief filings, now is reality.
Four reasonably-priced, yet powerful, tools can help not only the novice practitioner, but even the technologically-savvy practitioner, build an electroic arsenal.
1. Evidence on Screen. Every attorney who uses a laptop understands the advancements in the power and flexibility they offer.
You can run entire trial presentation systems in the courtroom just using your laptop. With an increase in hard drive space and processor speed, laptops can handle sophisticated trial presentation software products such as TrialDirector to present electronic evidence, including images, video and animation.
By loading trial exhibits and demonstrative evidence onto a laptop, attorneys easily can enhance their presentations. For example, during examination of a witness, it is often necessary to review selected text in voluminous documents. This involves everyone -- attorneys, witness, judge and jury all following along -- with multiple copies of the documents.
However, using an electronic trial presentation system, the text can appear on individual monitors, allowing all participants to follow the examination easily. The trick is to organize your case before the trial, and recognize that trial presentation technology is best used in moderation.
Laptops and trial presentation systems do not try your case for you -- they help you simplify the facts and present information in a fluid manner.
2. Scanners. Traditionally, scanners have been used with desktop computers to transform paper into electronic images to be used with litigation software and trial presentation systems. Evolving products, such as handheld scanners or portable e-copiers, bring even more versatility.
For example, during a courtroom trial, documents may be exchanged among counsel, or handwritten documents are created on-the-spot, to illustrate testimony. This evidence can be very beneficial -- and very powerful -- if used on cross-examination.
With a handheld portable e-copier, such as the Hewlett-Packard CapShare 920, documents can be instantly scanned into an electronic image format, transferred to a laptop via infrared or serial cable transmission, imported into your trial presentation system and become immediately accessible for witness examination or oral argument.
The power and convenience provided by the HP CapShare 920 e-copier (currently selling for $299) easily pays for itself after just one use.
3. CD-ROM Drives. The advancements in CD-ROM drive technology, and decreases in price, have led to expanded use of this technology. Most notable is the emergence of electronic filings of briefs on CD-ROMs.
Many courts now allow (in addition to traditional paper briefs), corresponding electronic briefs that include the actual brief and hypertext links to all supporting materials (such as the cited case law and supporting evidentiary documents).
This not only improves the presentation of the legal argument, but allows greater flexibility and convenience to the court for viewing and analyzing the parties' submissions.
In the past, some smaller firms claimed prejudice when receiving electronic filings. (See, Yukiyo, Ltd. v. Watanabe, 111 F.3d 883 (Fed. Cir. 1997), granting a motion to strike a CD-ROM electronic brief filing because of the potential for prejudice to one party's attorney who did not own, or have access to, the necessary equipment (a CD-ROM drive) to view the opposing party's electronic brief.)
Regardless of its ruling, the court clearly stated that it did not want to discourage such filings. In fact, it has incorporated formal local rules regarding CD-ROM brief filings (Fed. Cir. R. 32).
4. Software and Cell Phones. Rounding out your virtual briefcase are a few fundamental tools of the trade. First is the proper software loaded on your laptop.
Computers can become a mobile office, or an expensive paperweight. It's up to you to take the time to understand what various software applications can help you achieve.
Unfortunately, many attorneys demand that applications be loaded on their laptops, only to ignore the programs' capabilities. Identify exactly the applications you need, don't clog your system with superfluous programs.
Must-have functions include word processing, fax, calendar, and contact capabilities; plus Internet and remote access. You'll want electronic letterhead and fax cover sheets, to fax directly from your laptop. Finally, think about what information you need to access while on the road or in the courtroom.
The cell phone has become an essential device. In addition to communication, they can serve as wireless modems for connection to laptops and PDAs, and as Web-browsing tools.
Cell phone technology can access online legal databases; and link you to your firm's network to check e-mail, download information and synchronize calendar and contact information.
Knowing how to collect, share and present data in an electronic format benefits all parties involved in the courtroom. The primary force driving this change in the courtroom ultimately levels the playing field for large and small firms to be more effective and competitive.
Kevin Bell is executive vice president of Cyber Legal Solutions, Inc., based in Vienna, Va. He is chair of the Imaging and Infobases Interest Group of the ABA's Law Practice Management section. E-mail: Kevin@cyberlegalsolutions.com.