Friday, February 8, 2013

LegalTech – Words I Never Thought I’d Say

Last week, Laura Zois and I finished a five-day jury trial in Frederick County (you can read Ron Miller’s description here).  Now I can say something that I have never said before about any case I have ever tried, from a $10,000 District Court case to a week-long jury trial:

We didn’t use a trial binder.

For me, this was big.  I am not a naturally organized person, and as you have seen from some of my posts on the topic on my own blog, I think trial organization is of the utmost importance.  There are two reasons for this. The first is perception.  The jury sees everything you do during the whole trial.  If you seem disorganized, and your trial table is messy, the jury notices.  And consciously or not, it influences them at least a little.  The second reason is practical.  A trial (especially a long one) can be unwieldy, and requires keeping track of a variety of documents, whether they are exhibits, pleadings, depositions, jury instructions, or a hundred other things. It is very important to be able to locate and use those things at a moment’s notice.

I had it drilled into me as a young lawyer that the only tested and true way to keep track of everything was to use a detailed trial binder (or several), separated into sections and indexed for easy access in an instant.  Over the years it became ingrained, so much so that the mere act of getting the binder put together became an important part of my mental preparation for trial.  Back in the day, I remember showing up for a case in small claims court with a trial binder, and having the other lawyer make fun of me.  I didn’t care- I felt and looked organized because I was.  And I won the case, too.

This time, we took the plunge.  Instead of a traditional trial binder, we used our iPads to serve the same purpose.  Laura (who unlike me is naturally, if not pathologically, organized) put together our electronic file for trial and separated it out into sections just like you would do with a traditional trial binder.  Then we both took that and loaded it onto our iPads using Dropbox.

Frederick County Circuit Court is equipped with a wi-fi network, so we had easy access to the entire file.  Just in case, we made sure to save things we knew were significant directly to our devices.  We also brought a cellular wireless hot spot, just in case.

There are a few apps that let us get the most out of our electronic access to the whole file.  For example, we used Goodreader for reading and annotating depositions and other documents.  It allows you to highlight electronically, and also has a search feature that lets you search and locate a particular word even more quickly than the word index to a deposition. If you need to switch between documents rapidly, it lets you have more than one window open at a time.  So for example, we could have our client’s medical records and deposition transcript open at the same time for following along and making notes during the other side’s cross-examination.  I also used Goodreader for my cross-examination of the defendant and the defense experts, since I could have my outline of questions open in one window, and a highlighted copy of the witness’s deposition transcript in the other.  This made cross-examining on prior testimony really easy, and kept me from fumbling around for extra copies of exhibits so the witness and I each had one.

We also used a trial management program called Sanction for the opening and closing, and to pull up documents on the monitor so that the jury could see what the witness was being asked about.  Sanction lets you manipulate, enlarge, highlight documents, insert call-out boxes, etc.  You can also use it to insert bits of audio or video into the presentation.  One thing we did was take the audio recording of the defendant’s guilty plea in traffic court and insert it into our opening statement.  Instead of hearing us tell them about the guilty plea, the jury got to hear it for themselves, in the defendant’s own words.  Pretty powerful stuff.    The downside to Sanction is that it can’t be done remotely by the attorney, so you need a paralegal along to run it.  All that really means is looking over and calling out the exhibit or page number you want pulled up on the screen.

I did something new for the rebuttal closing, too.  I did that wirelessly from my iPad, using an Apple TV unit to wirelessly call up everything I needed in real time.  I used an app called Trialpad for that.  It lets you move around in the room while you control the presentation from the iPad.  You can play video and animations, call up documents or pictures, and highlight, redact or enlarge.  It even has an electronic pointer feature.  It worked flawlessly, even though it was the first time I had used it live in front of a jury.  Being able to control it myself gives me a lot of flexibility, especially when the size of the case may not justify bringing along a paralegal for the whole trial. 

All in all, we were really pleased about how the technology we were using made the case easy to organize and present, and how it allowed us to tell our jury a compelling, persuasive story.  I’m sure we will refine this approach as we use it for more trials, but we think we are heading in the right direction.

Oh, and if you’re wondering- yes, the defense took a shot at use for our use of “fancy bells and whistles.”  Like it’s our fault they showed up with piles of paper and a few exhibit boards.  Since I knew that shot was coming (it happens nearly every time), I handled it by memorizing the jurors’ jobs the night before and then at argument looking at each and giving examples of how technology is used (in their own jobs) every day in 2013. I explained that we aren’t doing our job of zealously representing our client if we don’t use every tool at our disposal, including electronic presentation technology. 

I guess it worked, because the verdict was 35 times higher than the last settlement offer in the case.

About Our Guest Author
John Bratt is an attorney with Miller & Zois, LLC in Glen Burnie, Maryland.  He concentrates his practice in serious auto and truck accidents, appellate litigation and medical malpractice cases.  He is a member of MAJ’s Board of Governors and chaired MAJ’s Auto Negligence Section from 2009 to 2011.  He has been named a Maryland SuperLawyers Rising Star each year from 2010 to 2013 , and was named to The National Trial Lawyers’ Top 40 Under 40 for 2012.  He lives in Lutherville, Maryland with his wife Katie, their daughter Delilah, and a Shih-Tzu named Keno.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds terrific-great job---I'm sure i dont have enough life expectancy to learn how to do the same!! +r