written my guest blogger and NITA faculty Wayne Stacey
Courtroom technology is not about slick presentations and overdone graphics. Courtroom technology is about helping jurors follow your story and remember the supporting exhibits. It is also about engaging each juror’s individual learning methods.
While we often focus on the usage of technology as we approach trial, the focus should begin much earlier. In today’s civil trials, key witnesses are often outside the trial-subpoena power of the court. That means the only way to present those witnesses’ testimony to the jury is through deposition playback.
Anyone who has sat through video playback knows that it can be brutally boring and difficult to follow, which means that the jury will likely miss the point and overlook important evidence. The jury sees witnesses questioned in the open-ended style common to depositions rather than the leading, cross-examination style common to trials. As a result, the jury is left with a meandering series of questions and long answers rather than a crisp cross-style trial presentation. And most damaging, the jury is left with no easy way to link the video testimony with the trial exhibits.
To solve this presentation problem, focus on creating the material for engaging video clips during the depositions. Consider yourself the director in a short movie. The witness is your actor, and the exhibits are your props.
Trial technicians bring your vision as director to life. They can sync video playback and exhibits in a split-screen view to create a visually engaging video. But more importantly, they can draw the jurors’ eyes to the key material through annotations. The example below shows how a good trial technician can link witness, exhibits, and annotations. The video playback in this example looks more like a live-witness presentation than typical video playback. The witness is shown in the upper left corner. The exhibit is shown simultaneously on the right side of the screen. The trial technician creates a callout over the exhibit—helping the jury understand the origins of the callout. And finally, the trial technician can annotate, in real time, the exact material corresponding to the witness’ testimony. This arrangement makes the story and the evidence easy for jurors to follow. Jurors are not required to flip through paper exhibit copies or search a screen for the relevant material.
This type of engaging video playback does not happen by accident. Trial technicians need guidance when selecting exhibit clips and annotating the clips. The deposing attorney must provide that guidance through carefully-crafted deposition questions. Rarely will courts allow a technician to clip or highlight exhibit material not clearly called out by the deposing attorney or the witness. Think about these questioning techniques as controlling the eyes of the witness, the trial technician, and the jurors. All of this must be set up in the deposition.
Three steps will guide trial technicians and the jury through typical exhibits. These techniques must be rolled out during the deposition to make them useful.
Courtroom technology does not make your story better. Technology’s role is to help you visually tell the story and help your jurors remember the evidence. The next time you are drafting your deposition outline for a deposition that could be played at trial, ask yourself what type of video are you creating. Are you creating something that the jurors can follow? Are you introducing evidence in a way that the jurors will visually follow? Or are you creating something destined to put everyone to sleep? Whatever you create, it starts with the questions you ask in the deposition. The conventional wisdom of asking open-ended deposition questions is not always the best solution.
NITA Faculty and Attorney Reuben Guttman co-wrote an article for Law 360, The Evolving Deposition. Guttman mentions NITA’s Deposition Skills: Seattle program in which he states, “practicing lawyers are trained in the skills of taking and defending the modern day deposition. Students are therefore counseled against making speaking objections, and an entire session is held on coping with obstreperous counsel.” To read the full article and learn about how depositions have evolved over the years, click here. Congratulations Reuben and thank you for being a proponent of NITA!
*Please note – when clicking the link you may have to register to read the entire article. However, if you do a Google search: The Evolving Deposition Law 360 and click the first link, you can view the article in its entirety without registering.
written by NITA guest blogger, Shannon Bales
In Thailand there is an expression – “Same, same but different” it has a wide variety of meanings but is basically used when tourists are shopping for souvenirs at booths that often written have the same goods. That elephant statue…It’s the same as the other one but “different”. In trial technology we encounter the same struggle with a nearly complete lack of differentiation. The exhibits placed on screen are uniformly presented in the same manner, using the same techniques, and the same yellow highlighting and provide little chance for the judge and jury to differentiate between who (visually) the plaintiff is and who the defendant is –, “same, same but different”.
A risk is decision maker confusion as judge and jury view a long list of documents that are so visually similar to previous, subsequent and opposing counsel’s exhibits that they can’t be distinguished from one another. The exhibits are a singular wall of yellow highlights that carry no weight or impact. Legal teams that don’t create interesting visuals of their exhibits are missing out on an opportunity to show some creativity, visually impress the jury, keep things interesting, and provide unique visual ques that decision makers can remember and give a common reference point to. We like to say, “If you highlight everything, you highlight nothing” and a good example of this is the document highlighted below which is very typical of most trial presentations. Typically, the lawyer starts by showing the “to and from”, and then “date and subject,” and then reading the body of the message. Put this document in line with all of the other exhibits being presented in the exact same way by both parties and you really have something that is not memorable at all – just a continuous wall of yellow highlighted documents.
There are many great trial presentation software tools available but there is a lack of variety in the tools and presentation options available. Nearly all of the software tools have highlighters, a circle, square and arrows. Yet even with these limited annotation options one can creaate a memorable and unique display of every exhibit that is shown, really anything but a wall of yellow. Wouldn’t it be great to see some “60 minutes” style document presentation options made right out of the box?
More often than not though, it is often the legal team that decides to not venture beyond the yellow wall. This is often due to the lawyer’s lack of comfort with the technology and uneasiness with handing over some potentially on-the-fly decisions about document annotation to a trial tech. This keeps many teams from releasing the complete creative range of visual options at trial. If you are working with a trial tech don’t be afraid to let them be a bit creative in working with exhibits. Lawyers with some level of discomfort with the technology or releasing a trial tech’s creative side could practice the night before and even pre-annotate documents so they know exactly what they are getting.
Contrast the previously shown yellow wall of highlighting with the sample below. To be sure, I’m not saying you should use all the colors of the rainbow but there are options to make your exhibit presentation more memorable. The use of color and colored shapes in the below example provide lawyers a method to focus the decision maker’s attention where they want it. For example: “the text in the blue box”, “the recipient is in the green highlight”, “the sender is circled in purple at the bottom of the page” all help the lawyer focus judge and jury attention where they want it to be.
Additionally, legal teams should consider how they can vary their presentation from time to time to keep viewers interested by not stacking endless slides or electronic exhibits in a row. Perhaps a board, document camera or other presentation method could be incorporated into your presentation strategy to break up the presentation and keep it interesting. For example, the document camera can be an impactful presentation tool if you make it appealing by incorporating hand movement, thick colored markers and emphasis on what you are trying to feature (i.e. scribble, underline, etc.).
In summary, don’t be the “same, same” as opposing counsel’s presentation – be different. Using color and varied annotations will help you keep viewer interest and provide a reference point for focus and recall. Familiarize yourself with the visual capabilities of your trial presentation software and add impact to every exhibit viewed in the courtroom. Get over your discomfort in working with trial presentation tools by pretreating the annotations (do them in advance) or practicing the night before.
The views expressed herein are those of the author’s and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals.
FTI Consulting, Inc., including its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a consulting firm and is not a certified public accounting firm or a law firm.
This article was written by:
Shannon Lex Bales
Managing Director, Trial Technology Consulting FTI
UCLA Paralegal Trial Technology Program Instructor
Trial Technology Author
UN War Crimes Tribunal Legal Technology Advisor
Legaltech Award: Most Innovative Use of Technology During a Trial 2009
Email Shannon at: Shannon.Bales@FTIConsulting.com
This quarter, we invited one of our scholarship winners to sit for a quick round of “Asked and Answered,” our blog interview series featuring NITA personalities. Aileen Tsao works for the King County Department of Public Defense and is currently assigned to represent individuals accused of misdemeanors in the Seattle Municipal Court—important public service work that made her eligible to apply for a scholarship administered by the NITA Foundation. Aileen was awarded a Craig Spangenberg/John Liber Scholarship, which was founded in 2014 by the International Society of Barristers (ISOB), with the goal of helping public service advocates obtain the “learning by doing” training that’s necessary to hone their trial skills. What this interview with Aileen reminds us is how much self-awareness NITA program attendees develop as a consequence of training—how much more intentional they can be in both thought and practice. It’s a game changer. We wish to thank our friends at ISOB for providing this invaluable experience to lawyers like Aileen, and to thank Aileen herself for choosing a career path that truly makes a difference.
What kind of cases do you typically handle for King County?
Currently, I am in Seattle Municipal Court—so, I defend people accused of misdemeanors that are prosecuted by the City of Seattle (i.e., anything that has a sentence of under one year).
What is the most challenging part about working in public defense?
The sheer amount of cases and clients. As misdemeanor attorneys, we are assigned approximately 400 cases each year. Although some clients will have multiple cases, the biggest challenge is navigating through so many cases and giving each person/case the attention they deserve. Although the cases are misdemeanors, they carry heavy consequences for each person. Loss of housing, inability to get a job, immigration consequences, fees . . . all of which can be significantly more complicated than the jail time itself.
What is the most important personal attribute you bring to your work?
A personal attribute that has certainly been “groomed” by my work is not caring if someone is going to say no, yet asking and asking anyway. Even if it seems you’re asking for the impossible—repeatedly—I’ve really embraced the concept that “the worst they can say is ‘no.’” Sometimes judges, prosecutors, and people in general surprise me. So, even if you’ve been told no numerous times, you just never know until you ask . . . .
It’s been nearly one year since you attended the Building Trial Skills program in Seattle. Looking back, how has it made an ongoing difference in your practice today? What do you do differently now that you didn’t do then?
NITA provided me with useful guidance on practical ways to be creative and engaging throughout my trial (and not in the “bring a PowerPoint” kind of way). For example, I was always aware of the importance of a theory/story/one-liner. In preparing for a trial, I would have a theory, but kind of skim over really hammering down a sentence, thinking, “I’ll get to that later” (i.e., never). Brainstorming requires you to shift out of “How do I make sure I hit every point on cross?” which is hard to find time to do.
Building Trial Skills talked about having a “bumper sticker” for your case. Hearing a group brainstorm different “catchy slogans”—and referring to them repeatedly throughout the case—really solidified in my mind its importance. For one thing, it’s “cleaner” than a theory and forces you to make your big point really concise into a way the jurors can understand. Similarly, the “What is your one-minute opening/closing?” is also a concept I hadn’t thought about. Now, I really prioritize the “one-minute” and the “bumper sticker.” I understand their importance both for forcing me to truly understand my case and in presenting them to the jurors in a way they can come to a not-guilty verdict.
How did you first hear about NITA?
Judge Steve Rosen recommended it to me after he watched me fumble through admitting exhibits in my first solo trial. You can write the evidence rule down and think, “Yep!” But actually going through the process in the form of ask/answer with an adverse witness in a room full of people is completely different. The evidence drills at Building Trial Skills were invaluable.
What do you enjoy the most about working in the law?
I learn something new every day. There is always something worth working hard for. I’m never bored.
Your undergraduate degree is from the University of Toronto, where you double-majored in Anthropology and something called Peace & Conflict Studies. Sounds intriguing—not to mention necessary in this increasingly conflict-filled world of ours. What was that academic program like?
I loved both of those programs! Both of them shared understanding society and human behavior—why we do what we do. Peace & Conflict Studies was part of International Relations, so it was in a more global context of international conflicts. Anthropology was more in the realm of global development/globalization, but also understanding and respecting cultures on a more local scale. In anthropology, I took an interesting class on incarceration systems in the U.S. that still sits in the back of my mind.
What was the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
Travelling around Guatemala when my husband was working around Antigua for a few months. I learned about the local culture, we stayed in a beautiful treehouse (treehouse!), and my downtime was spent in a hammock eating fresh mangos and guacamole.
What do you collect?
Books. Even in our new paperless world, I still love reading paper. And the batteries don’t die.
What do you do when you can’t sleep?
Read a book, turn off my phone.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
David Sedaris. Euphoria, by Lily King.
iPhone or Android?
Coffee or tea?
Rain or shine?
Early bird or night owl?
Cats or dogs?
And finally, what is your motto?
I don’t think I have one . . . ? Though I do tend to say, “There’s only one way to find out.”
The NITA Foundation awards a number of scholarships for our public trial and deposition programs to worthy applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to public service and/or financial need. Please support NITA’s mission to promote justice by training and mentoring lawyers to be effective advocates for their clients and donate now.
Enjoy this interview? Find more of our Asked and Answered interviews with NITA personalities here on The Legal Advocate.
NITA Trustee Emeritus Tom Geraghty has informed NITA of the victory in which attorneys Laura Nirider and Steve Drizin earned in the Seventh Circuit in the Brendan Dassey case. Dassey was one of the subjects of the Netflix series, Making a Murderer. Geraghty’s clinic led the litigation for Dassey the defendant.
Winning such a motion is a massive achievement, so congratulations are in order! According to Geraghty, the decision was a result of the skill, dedication, and hard work of Laura, Steve, and their students.