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If you’re planning to go high-tech in the courtroom, plan ahead

My fellow bloggers have posted before about using technology in the courtroom. Last week, the ABA’s Law Practice Management section posted a great article in the November issue of Law Practice Today on preparing for your first use of technology in the courtroom.

The authors make an excellent case for using technology to “bring a case to life,” and give readers a straightforward outline of what options are generally available and how to use them (even down to how to lay out multimedia displays in a courtroom). They also give examples of where in the course of a trial to integrate multimedia (e.g., openings, introduction of evidence, closings).

But what I think cannot be stressed enough, especially when integrating technology into a courtroom performance, is the importance of planning ahead. While courtroom technology is an outstanding tool, even a vital tool, it has created a whole host of new issues.

For example, authentication of a digital video or photograph frequently has more layers than authentication of a traditional photograph — you have more chain-of-title issues, system maintenance and performance issues, and problems with methods used to enhance images, to name only a few. If you zoom in, crop, or modify an image in any way, or create a graph or simulation based on a video or photograph, you have issues which may necessitate expert testimony as to the veracity of what those images show.

Even emphasis (e.g., bolding, italics, etc.) made to plain text on PowerPoint slides can be considered misleading in some instances. If you fail to address these issues early, you will inevitably open yourself up to objections in front of the jury — or, worse, having your multimedia thrown out in the middle of trial.

In addition to dealing with the legal implications of using technology in the courtroom, you cannot overlook the practical. The Law Practice Today article does a great job outlining many practical considerations, but I would add one thing: call the courthouse first. Find out which courtroom you will be in (if they can tell you, although they can’t always), and what technology is available in that courtroom. In some cases, the court’s administrative staff can even specifically assign your case to the courtroom that has the technology you need.

While the article is correct that many courthouses and courtrooms are very lean in the technological department, you may be pleasantly surprised by others. Where a court does have built-in technology, use it. It is far more effective for a lawyer to use the court’s system (even if it requires you to adapt your presentation in some ways) than for that lawyer to fight with unwieldy transportable projection screens, lighting issues and sound problems while the jury sits in the jury box, staring at blank multimedia monitors in front of them. I’ve seen that, and it’s not pretty.

Also, keep in mind that many of these tips (aside from the legal issues noted above) are equally applicable to any public speaking engagement. In fact, non-court public speaking engagements present prime opportunities, particularly for younger lawyers, to get out in front of an audience and to test out and get comfortable with different speaking techniques and speech-enhancing technologies. On that note, if you want to get some speaking experience but don’t know where to start, try your law school or the young lawyers section of your state or local bar association —- they have many low-stress opportunities to speak individually or on panels.