Think Big, Start Small
Posted Apr 01, 2004 05:10 pm CST
Charlotte Bingham is no luddite. She is a true believer in what technology can do to help dazzle a jury and make cross-examinations more effective.
Yet when it comes to her own trial practice, Bingham still chooses to lug bankers boxes full of documents into the courtroom. If she needs to get fancy, she might have a document enlarged and use a pointer for emphasis.
Yet she yearns for the day when she can merge her beliefs with her practice. “I’ve never walked into court with a laptop,” she admits. “I want to be able to do that.”
It’s not that Bingham doesn’t know how to use a computer. She works on a Compaq Armada laptop at her office every day and can surf the Web and use e-mail with ease. But when it comes to trials, Bingham is stymied by her self-professed ignorance of the array of software choices and, most importantly, how to use any of the available programs.
Now Bingham has a high-profile case looming that is shouting out for trial preparation and management software. Specifically, she’d like to find a program to help organize the voluminous evidence and make her in-court presentations stand out.
Bingham will be defending at least 16 government entities against multiple civil rights violations claims that arose out of a massive undercover drug operation in Texas in which 40 people were arrested and 38 convicted of criminal charges. Questions about the undercover operation led to the reversal of all the convictions.
The underlying criminal case has received significant media attention, with some of the key players giving print and broadcast interviews to local and national news outlets.
Bingham wants to be able to use at trial the mountains of documentary evidence as well as the video footage. Underscoring her need for technological help are the 20 or so lawyers involved in the case, including opposing counsel from a large, well-equipped, tech-savvy firm.
Bingham’s reliance on paper just won’t cut it for this case.
Life Audit trial technology expert Michael Hahn wants to get Bingham on the path to the 21st century by having all her documents, and audio and video files digitized and stored on CD-ROMS. Numerous outsourcing companies are available to provide the service at a cost of pennies per page. One CD can hold the equivalent of 15,000 pages, Hahn notes, which is a lot easier to carry into court.
Once her documents are on a CD, Bingham will have taken a huge first step toward making use of technology.
SHIFTING TO SOFTWARE
Next, Hahn suggests, Bingham should invest in a trial presentation software package that is capable of handling multimedia files. Such a program would allow Bingham to do what she’s only dreamed about doing in a courtroom, such as synchronizing a videotaped deposition with its written transcript to impeach a witness at trial or projecting testimony from a transcript onto a screen. Hahn says software with these features can be purchased for as little as $600.
Because Bingham would like to dispose of her trusty trial notebooks, Hahn advises her to make sure the trial presentation software she purchases has a feature that allows her to organize files in a variety of ways such as by name, date or type of evidence. The program also should have search capabilities that will allow her to pull up files named in a variety of ways.
“Say that you have a witness at trial and you think he’s just changed his testimony. All you have to do is enter the page number of the trial transcript and it pulls up the testimony. The testimony can be projected onto a screen in court, and the jury and judge can see the transcript,” Hahn says.
While the wizardry of trial presentation software sounds like a dream come true to Bingham, she fears that the investment might be wasted on her. Basic word processing, surfing the Net and e-mail are the limit of her technological abilities.
Hahn understands the concern. Most lawyers do not have the time or inclination to devote hours to learning how to use new programs. But testing the waters is a necessary first step.
To ease Bingham’s fears, Hahn suggests that she start small. He wants her to try one feature of the software at a time on smaller cases. As she gains confidence and facility with the program, Bingham can begin using more in-depth features for multiple witnesses.
He also notes that most software companies offer tutorials and support, including Web-based and in-person training. “Try it out first to work out the kinks so that you get the comfort level to realize that you can do it or that you need to train someone else to do it for you.”
Michael Hahn is a Phoenix-based specialist in trial-support technology. He has assisted lawyers in cases ranging from the criminal prosecution of the Oklahoma City bomber to civil suits brought by the city of Phoenix.
POSITION Partner, Crenshaw, Dupree & Milam in Lubbock, Texas.
PRACTICE AREA Litigation, primarily defending employers and governmental agencies in discrimination, civil rights and personal injury claims.
GOAL To learn to use trial preparation and management software for trial work and to break reliance on paper evidence.
Life Audit HOT TIP: GET IN SYNC So you have your projector and your laptop hooked up, but your image isn’t projecting on the big screen. What’s going on? Not to worry, says Life Audit trial technology expert Michael Hahn. This can happen if your laptop is running on an older version of Microsoft (or anything that’s not XP) and the screen resolutions between the laptop and the screen aren’t in sync. Simply adjust the default screen resolution on the laptop—usually it is set too high, he says. With Windows software, this can be done in a few simple steps by selecting “properties” on the menu that appears when you right-click on your mouse. If your laptop is running Windows XP, this adjustment will be made automatically on your laptop.
Digitize. Convert documents into digital form and store on CD-ROMs. One CD can hold up to 15,000 documents.
Format. Save documents in TIF format instead of PDF for greater flexibility.
Software. Look for document management software made specifically for litigation. It will offer the features you need and is more likely to be compatible in courtrooms across the country.
Start slow. Master the basics of the software first by trying it out on one portion of a small case before exploring the bells and whistles for bigger cases.