A guide to the latest in trial presentation software, hardware and gadgetry for paralegals
If you watch television, you probably are interested in the latest and greatest shows about to hit the small screen. You see the promos and teasers, and you want to know more so you can decide which ones you will watch. Maybe you lean toward new shows with your favorite stars or spinoffs of your favorite series because of their previous success. On occasion, you might take a chance on something new. Perhaps the title grabbed your attention or a coworker gave it some good reviews.
The same is true for trial presentation technology. As paralegals, you might already be aware of the technology that is available or you might already be using it; however, you probably are interested in the latest trends and new features that will improve upon what you already have and you might be wondering if the hype of the new presentation products will meet your expectations.
What’s New and Improved: Software
Have you seen those commercials with two guys representing a Mac and a PC? No doubt, the competition continues to be fierce between the two giants of operating systems. Trial presentation software also has a similar competition between Verdict Systems’ Sanction and inData’s TrialDirector. Each company tries to outdo the other by adding new features, either with a new evolution of software or other services, to its strong base of products. Although no new versions of their basic trial presentation software have been released, they both offer new spin-offs of their products.
Verdict Systems (www.verdictsystems.com) has not released any new versions of Sanction since Version 2.8 was released in October 2006. The main focus of Verdict Systems now is its latest release, Verdical. Verdical is the company’s evolution of Sanction to become the complete evidence management and presentation software. It’s designed for use from the beginning of a case through presentation in the courtroom. Billed as a “cradle-to-grave” solution, Verdical offers document and case management, transcript management, an online hosting repository and new dual monitor presentation capabilities. Verdical is a full SQL database written with the latest .NET technology. This will provide more flexibility and avoid a past issue where the user encountered problems because administrative rights were required to make changes to the database. If you are using Sanction and want to convert to Verdical, any work you have with live Sanction cases easily will transfer to Verdical.
InData (www.indatacorp.com) has not released any new versions of TrialDirector since Version 5.1 was released in May 2007, although inData has continued to focus on other aspects of litigation such as e-discovery and video processing. InData’s most recent release was TimeCoder Pro Version 5.1, its newest video and transcript synchronization software. TimeCoder Pro 5.1 automatically synchronizes transcripts and video depositions using advanced speech and pattern recognition technology.
In searching for trial presentation software, you will find more vendors who will provide the service for you as opposed to a software program you can purchase to use on your own. Nevertheless, although not as well known, there are other trial presentation software products available.
Visionary by Visionary Legal Technologies (www.visionarylegaltechnologies.com) is both discovery management and trial presentation software. It also is a powerful database that can handle over 1 million documents and gives you the ability to customize your database with over 250 user-defined fields.
Another program is TrialPro II by Idea, Inc. (www.trialpro.com), which lets you create your preferences so you can tailor the program to your presentation needs, including the capability to display exhibits in the program’s standard file format.
For Mac users there is TrialSmart by Clarity Legal Software (www.claritylegalsoftware.com), which is trial presentation software specifically designed for Macs. The latest updates to this software in April 2007 added several new features including PDF text searching, group reports, saved layering and resizeable video windows.
More Power With PowerPoint
Microsoft’s PowerPoint continues to be a presentation software giant and the overwhelming choice of lawyers in opening statements and closing arguments. Although it isn’t recommended that you use PowerPoint as your main trial presentation tool since you can’t always script out how the trial will proceed, it has become a powerful compliment to trial.
Microsoft released PowerPoint 2007 last year and, as with other Microsoft Office products, totally changed the look. Even for advanced users, it might take some time to locate familiar features. The new interface attempts to make all the tools you need available when you need them without cluttering your screen. Perhaps the biggest improvement is the SmartArt feature. You can create flowcharts, organizational charts and other diagrams much more easily and quickly with PowerPoint 2007. You even can convert a bulleted list into a SmartArt diagram. PowerPoint 2007 also gives you more animation options and you are not limited to its selection of animations; you can customize your own. This is a huge improvement from previous versions. Another new feature worth mentioning is the capability to copy any presentation to a CD. The process is easy: simply use the “Package to CD” feature, and any video or audio clips will automatically be included.
Although PowerPoint continues to rule presentations, it also has become a two-headed beast. Using PowerPoint in the courtroom has become so common it might not be as effective as it once was. It’s no longer a novelty, which could mean that your PowerPoint presentation might not grab the attention of jurors as it once did. If the attorney reads the slides, if the text is hard to read or if it complicates the subject, then you have lost your desired result.
When you are creating PowerPoint presentations, think about more than just using bulleted lists or text-only slides. PowerPoint still can be a powerful tool if you remember to focus on creating points that add power to your presentation. Take advantage of new ways within the program to relay your message. Think outside of the average PowerPoint user box. In my experience, I see far too many attorneys who try to put an entire legal cite or jury instructions on one slide. This only makes your PowerPoint presentation powerless to persuade your audience.
Wireless and Wired Displays
Advances in technology and wireless 802.11 standards now have made it possible to transmit and receive wireless video. You no longer are confined to using VGA cables to connect your laptop to a projector or monitor display. Although wireless technology is available for this, I still worry about its reliability. You certainly don’t want to increase your probability of glitches in the courtroom. I would recommend sticking with wired connections for video if possible. However, if you are in a situation where transmitting your video signal wirelessly is necessary, there are a few options.
The Avocent EWMS1000 Wireless Media Streamer (www.avocent.com) broadcasts standard definition, full-motion, streaming video from an analog video source to multiple display devices up to 1,000 feet within the line of sight. The EWMS1000 makes installations simple and more cost effective by eliminating the need for long cable runs and expensive PCs at each display. If you have a laptop, you can display your presentation through a projector, LCD monitor, video monitor or computer monitor.
The description on the Avocent EWMS1000 claims that the product is plug-and-play with simple installation. I did not find this to be the case. For me, it took several calls to customer support to get the signal to synch between the transmitter and receiver until customer support realized my transmitter and receiver versions didn’t match. Eventually, however, we were able to set up the correct frequency and transmit the video signal wirelessly. This is a pretty nifty device to have if you need to transmit to a variety of output sources; however, I would repeatedly test it in the courtroom before use.
For computer-to-projector signals, there are several projectors that have the ability to receive wireless video signals either built-in or with an adapter accessory. The InFocus Liteshow II Wireless Presentation Adapter (www.infocus.com) connects directly to any projector with a VGA connection. You can send standard slideshow presentations from your laptop or transmit seamless high-resolution video and audio simultaneously.
Plextor offers the PX-PA15AW Wireless Projector Adapter (www.plextor.com), which projects video images to any projector with a VGA connection from anywhere in the courtroom. You easily can switch control of the projector from one presenter to another without long interruptions. This adapter also works with Macs.
Wireless capabilities also can come built into a projector. For example, the Sony Wireless VPL-CX86 XGA LCD projector (www.sony.com) is equipped with Sony’s Air Shot technology, using 802.11 b/g wireless protocols. At a cost of $3,000, it’s expensive compared to other projectors; however, the investment might be worth considering if you need a projector for presentations in varied courtroom or conference room designs.
There are many other options for projectors with wireless capabilities. I recommend shopping around to find the one that works best for you. Many projectors also have connections for thumb drives or flash drives. Depending on the software provided, you might be able to make a presentation without a laptop. If I had one piece of crucial advice for anyone shopping for projectors, it would be: Don’t let price be the deciding factor. It’s wise to spend more for features that you need — especially brightness (i.e., lumens) — because they will pay for themselves in the future in efficiency and seamless presentations.
Sometimes projectors are not the answer because positioning projectors with screens can be cumbersome. Another option would be to consider LCD flat screens or plasma monitors. Costs for these displays have dropped considerably in the past few years and they will continue to drop as demand increases for digital television monitors. A 20-inch LCD monitor can cost between $350 and $450, depending on the brand and features.
Many courts are finding that larger LCD or plasma monitors are sound, affordable investments. As prices begin to fall within court budgets, you might not have to worry about setting up a display. The ideal situation would be to simply bring your laptop and connect to the court’s displays. LCD and plasma displays also provide better viewing angles, as well as brighter colors that are more in synch with the display on your laptop. Projectors tend to be unpredictable with respect to color shades and are not always true to your laptop display.
Courting Wi-Fi and Broadband
Wi-Fi has been a hot issue in the courtroom. Some courts allow it; others don’t. Recently I was in a federal courtroom in Georgia where the judge instructed an expert witness that he could bring his laptop into the courtroom but transmissions in or out of the courtroom were not allowed. This meant no research on the Internet, use of online legal research providers or e-mail to or from his office. In another courtroom in the same district, a different judge allowed counsel to conduct online research and file motions electronically during the trial.
Wireless Internet use in courtrooms is completely at the discretion of the judge. Each judge has his or her view of this technology. If you or your attorneys will be using laptops in the courtroom, be sure that you are aware of what the judge allows.
Wi-Fi access in the courtroom can be a tremendous asset for legal research. Instead of wearing out the hinges on the courtroom doors going in and out to conduct Internet research somewhere else on issues that come up
during the course of a trial, it’s very convenient and efficient to be able to utilize Wi-Fi access to do research right at your counsel table.
Prior to a trial, check with the court for Wi-Fi access. If it doesn’t provide Wi-Fi, check for hotspots in the area. You can check for Wi-Fi hotspots through www.jwire.com, which lists over 200,000 free and fee-based locations in 135 countries. Another good place to look for free wi-fi hotspots is www.wififreespot.com, which contains a directory listing of locations offering free Wi-Fi.
If you don’t want to risk dependence on Wi-Fi access, most cellular phone providers offer broadband cards or air cards that use a cellular signal to access the Internet. In most situations, you can get a better deal on these cards if you include them with your cell phone service. Just pop the broadband card in your computer and you have service that will be as reliable (or unreliable) as your cell phone signal. Most mobile broadband services can download data at 3.4 megabits per second and upload at approximately 1.76 megabits per second. Again, you will need to check with the court for permission to do this.
Where Are the Floppy Diskettes and CDs?
Diskettes are gone! They have joined those old 45 records in the technology retirement home. You can’t purchase a new PC today that comes standard with a floppy diskette drive. For one thing, floppy disks don’t hold a lot of information compared to thumb drives or flash drives that now are common. CDs still are used but they are not as convenient as other storage media.
What do thumb drives have to do with trial presentation? Their convenience and storage capabilities make it possible for you to put an entire trial presentation on a thumb drive, tuck it in your pocket and transport it to the courtroom. However, there also is a serious risk that comes with that convenience. Security is an important issue to consider with thumb drives, flash drives and memory cards. It’s great that they are small but not so great when you lose one, especially when it contains crucial information.
If you are going to use flash drives during a trial, you should make it a priority to pay extra for password-protected or fingerprint-access devices. The BioCert ClipBio Pro (www.clipbio.com) is a plug-and-play, secure portable device that can encrypt your files and only can be opened with a fingerprint. The ClipBio Pro includes iQBio Sync Software, which synchronizes with Microsoft Exchange for access to your e-mail, task lists, contacts and calendar. There also is no trace of it left on the PC and no data or history left behind. At $49.95, it’s reasonably priced for 2 GB of secured storage.
Bioflash from Aimgene Technology Co. (www.biometric-fingerprints.com) provides a secure flash drive by using a chip-based sensor for live scan capturing of 3D fingerprint minutiae. There also are options to allow both limited user and administrator settings.
The BioStik by Index Security (www.biostik.com) has all of the security built into the flash drive with no computer interaction for authentication. The USB opens only after the BioStik is connected to the USB port on your computer and your fingerprint is accepted. The downside is that a 2 GB BioStik will cost you $450. You will have to evaluate whether the extra security is worth the price.
The Verdict: What do Jurors Expect From Trial Presentation Technology?
When you are deciding to use new technology in the courtroom, as a paralegal or legal assistant, you will need to look ahead and consider all possibilities for evidence presentation in each case. Many of your attorneys will not think about issues such as line-of-sight problems and insufficient lighting until they arise. In addition, you need to consider how the jury will be able to review the evidence when it’s deliberating. Trial presentation software is great but if it stops at the door of the jury room, how effective will it be? For instance, you might synchronize your audio or video with the transcript so that it flows seamlessly during the trial, but how will the jury be able to view it in the jury room when it’s deciding on a verdict? Some jury rooms might be equipped with a computer, but even so, they need someone that is capable of operating the system. Another option is to keep the equipment available in the courtroom so the jury has the option of returning to the courtroom when a question arises. The following are some things you should do in advance:
Contact the court and find out what, if any, technology is available in the jury room.
Make an appointment to see the courtroom for yourself.
Advise the attorney (probably many times) of the issues about which you are concerned.
If the evidence is in electronic format such as MP3 or DVD, make sure that the jury will have equipment available to play the media; otherwise, convert the files to another format.
Ask other paralegals how they have handled these issues.
Finally, keep in mind that the expectations of jurors today tend to be unrealistic because of hit television shows such as “CSI” and “Law & Order,” which can go from crime scene to conviction within an hour (including commercials). In the real (legal) world, we know this doesn’t happen. But since we live in a multimedia world, it’s easy to lose the attention of the jurors. Presentation technology can address this issue — if a person sees something on a screen, he or she will tend to more readily believe it.
Regardless of what the jurors’ expectations are, there are three reasons that trial presentation technology should be used: to save time, to provide clarity and to persuade. In your evaluation of the latest in trial presentation technology, if you keep these three goals at the top of your list, the jury will stay tuned in.
Milton Hooper is a litigation support specialist in Macon, Ga. He has worked in trial graphics, document management and courtroom presentation technology since 1996. Hooper has been an instructor of Microsoft PowerPoint and Verdict Systems’ Sanction II at the National Advocacy Center in Columbia, S.C., and is an inspirational writer and speaker. He served active duty in the United States Air Force.