The Legal Advocate

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Some Thoughts About Courtroom Technology

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Written by guest blogger Judge McGahey

I’ve been invited to share some thoughts about the use of courtroom technology. Let me start with a caveat: I didn’t use much of what is now considered “courtroom technology” when I was in practice, primarily because much of it didn’t exist. But I’ve watched a lot of trials as a judge, and I’ve seen courtroom technology used effectively or misused disastrously; I think that gives me some perspective that could be helpful. Put another way, from the technical side, I have no idea how courtroom technology “works.” But from the advocacy side, I absolutely have some ideas on how it “works.”

Question #1: Can You Make It Work? – Do you understand anything about how the technology operates? Do you know how to make the technology work in the courtroom? Have you investigated which of the multitude of presentation programs is most compatible with your practice? Have you looked into which program is easiest for you, as an individual, to actually use? Can you push the right switch, button, toggle, clicker, whatever, to actually make the exhibit appear where you want it to appear? Would you be better off with someone else in charge of the pushing? And even if you’ve answered these questions, have you actually practiced with the technology so that your use of it is seamless and smooth?

Question #2: Will It Work (In the Courtroom)? – You’ve picked your program and know what button to push. But now you need to figure out whether what you want to do will work in the courtroom where you need it to work. Every courtroom has its own peculiarities. Here in Denver, I preside in a courtroom located in an historic building that was built in 1932. But the acoustics are poor, the sound system is quirky, the sight lines aren’t great and the electrical wiring is old and slapdash. Heck, it’s hard just to find a wall socket that’s easy to access. If you’re going to use technology in my courtroom, you better set it up and make sure that it works, that everyone can hear what’s being said (if you have sound), and that the jurors (or the judge) can clearly see what’s on display. We’ll let you or your tech folks come over to the courtroom ahead of time and set up before trial starts; I don’t know a judge who won’t accommodate a request like this, if at all possible. And please remember to bring along what you need to make your setup function; I’ve had trials held up because someone didn’t have a long enough extensions cord or extra batteries.

Question #3: Does It Work (As Part of Your Case) – All of your best intentions about courtroom technology are pointless unless what you do with it makes your case more credible. A flashy or clever exhibit still has to have impact as an instrument of persuasion; it can’t just be an exercise in nifty graphics. I’ve seen lawyers do really clever and creative things using technology that left the jurors cold. I’ve also seen simple, black and white power point slides used in a closing argument to convince jurors to award a plaintiff more than the lawyer asked for, or to help convict someone of first-degree murder. Think hard about the most effective way to present your case. Are any of your exhibits dodgy so that the judge might not let them in? Does the judge expect you to show your presentation to opposing counsel before you use it? Will your jury be tech savvy or inclined to skepticism about a case using technology? Does your presentation match up with what you’re asking the jury to do? Does the technology overwhelm your argument? Does what you present reflect your client’s case or your ego?

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I realize that what I’ve written is very basic. But even experienced lawyers get distracted by shiny objects like really neat presentation software and then forget about the basics that make a courtroom presentation successful. Never forget that your goal as a trial lawyer is a successful outcome for your client, not just impressing a jury with technical wizardry.
I’ll see you in court.

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NITA’s team of practicing lawyers, professors and judges from around the nation dedicates its efforts to the training and development of skilled and ethical legal advocates to improve the adversarial justice system. NITA's Goals are to:
  • Promote justice through effective and ethical advocacy.
  • Train and mentor lawyers to be competent and ethical advocates in pursuit of justice.
  • Develop and teach trial advocacy skills to support and promote the effective and fair administration of justice.
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