Monday, March 28, 2011

Expanding On Courtroom Technology

With the ever increasing popularity of smartphones, the tablet is a fancy mobile device that is a cross between a laptop and a smartphone, with a promising future.

Launching in April of 2010, Apple was the first to make the tablet idea mainstream with the release of the iPad. The Samsung Galaxy Tab was released next in late 2010, followed by Motorola's Xoom in early 2011, and releases throughout the remainder of this year will be from HTC, ASUS, Blackberry and HP.

As these devices acquire more software applications, they become more practical for a wide variety of uses. Working in the field of litigation, I've noticed that there potentially is a land of opportunity with tablets. Being just a skinny slate, they are much easier to transport, very thin and very light weight. This also helps with the battery life making it last longer than most any laptop. One of the most important features in my mind is the camera. Taking a picture or video and then instantly being able to view and edit them on the screen would drastically help speed up the preproduction process of multimedia cases.

The major implementation towards production that comes to mind is the ability to write or draw on photographs immediately after taking them. This would come in handy when recording measurements of a structure or distances between objects at the scene of an accident. Normally you would take photographs and write down the measurements separately on a sheet of paper, but this can sometimes create a disconnect and can also be much more time consuming when implementing the measurements later on. For instance if you were recording measurements of a building for 3D presentation you write the measurements directly on the photograph.

Another use for tablets in the legal world that I foresee as being very beneficial is during a courtroom trial. What if each member of the jury had a tablet which they could use to interact with a 3D presentation? What if each person in the jury could choose what angle they view an accident from by moving around the screen at just the touch of their finger? However, there may be some objectionable admissibility issues between the presentation of the lawyer and what juror has control over while interacting with it. Even schools now are considering replacing their classroom books with tablets because of the wealth of information you can have at your fingertips. With developing 3D technologies now being implemented into screens and all sorts of creative software being put out by developers I look forward to the progress of tablets in the future.

Friday, March 25, 2011

If You Can Draw It, You Can Use It...

In my experience as a litigation consultant for the past few years, I find that many clients often express concern over the use of demonstrative evidence, graphics, interactive multimedia, or visuals in general at trial. The most common question is whether or not a visual is admissible. Generally, the answer is simple: It depends. While the answer is simple, the meaning of that answer obviously isn't.

Yes, there are many kinds of visuals that are inadmissible and require objection. At WIN Interactive we tend to pride ourselves on not only knowing how to create admissible visuals, but also how to rip apart an opponent's visuals with legal argument. In a borderline demented way we actually find it fun!

Nonetheless, I'm not going to get into all the intricacies involved with creating more complex visuals with admissibility in mind. I want to keep this post simple and offer some of you a very useable rule of thumb. Basically, if you can draw it, you can use it. What I mean by that is even if you can't get a visual marked and placed into evidence, you can still often use that visual as a chalk. In fact, most of the visuals used in trials today come in as chalks. That means they may be shown to the judge and jury for explanatory/educational purposes in conjunction with a witness , but the visual itself often is not considered evidence.

I like to think of the term, "Chalk," literally. If you had a blackboard in court and a piece of chalk, you could draw or have your witness draw elements of a person's testimony in order to keep track and highlight certain portions of it. I worked on one trial in San Antonio, TX where the lead attorney on the case used a blank piece of paper, a felt tipped marker and an ELMO (document camera device) to draw while a witness testified. The effect was that he was teaching the jury while a witness testified. Some courts around the country might not have the patience for this sort of step by step approach, but the majority of judges would be hard pressed to refuse you the use of a blackboard, whiteboard, or large pad of paper on an easel.

Keeping that in mind, when faced with a judge's misplaced concern over a visual image, the go-to argument should be to ask the judge whether you would be permitted to draw the image on a chalkboard and use it as a chalk. Look at the three following examples of images:

This image is how a person might draw a basic house on a chalkboard. Even a person with high artistic ability would probably not fair much better considering the speed with which one might need to draw while on the spot at trial. This is very likely admissible as a chalk.

This next image is the same basic house, but drawn using a computer program. Already there is an improvement because the lines are straight and the background is white. People are more used to white paper print-outs or computers today since not many people (other than maybe schoolteachers) use a blackboard anymore.

In this last image we have clearly skipped a few steps in between, but I just wanted to show you how you could go from a blackboard drawing to a high quality 3D image (not an animation -- that's another story) while still remaining within the same chain of logic. The only difference between these images is the medium used to create them.

If you can use an image that you can crudely draw on an archaic blackboard then why can't you use a clearer, much more educational image to accomplish the same goal? Please keep in mind that what you do with an image is even more important than the image itself, but that is grounds for a much longer discussion and I want to keep this (perhaps overly) simple.

The basic point I'm trying to make is that just because a judge or an attorney may not understand modern technology and graphic design, doesn't mean that the objections are founded. Really, the objection (in most cases) is one made out of fear of the unknown and erring on the side of safety. The best thing an attorney can do is to hand-hold the objector on a logical path that takes him from what he knows to what he doesn't and shows him that the two aren't that far off.

So, again... while it isn't a hard-line rule... if you can draw it (or have someone else draw it for you)... you can use it. Ask yourself these questions about your visual:

1) Is it corroborated by a witnesses' testimony and/or facts already in evidence?
2) Is the drawing a fair and accurate REPRESENTATION (i.e. it doesn't have to be to scale, etc.) of the facts/testimony?
3) Is it educational and helpful to the jury to understand a potentially complex issue?
4) Could I have drawn this on a blackboard (albeit poorly)?

Answering, "Yes," to these questions gets you off to a good start!

Keep that in mind the next time you plug your computer in for trial and someone gets an incredulous look on his/her face...

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Learning through tutorials

Tutorials are very important no matter if you have an entry- level position or are an “expert” in your field. You can learn from one another and the presentation of information they relay. Tutorials can be found online for numerous programs, tasks or projects. But learning from other people can hold more meaning and help you comprehend things that you may not understand or have difficulty with. Tutorials are defined as something that provides instruction in a particular area. However, beyond following an instruction guide online or reading a step-by-step book, we can learn from others and become much more effective. At WIN the legal team works together on many cases that come before us, however certain individuals hold expertise in fields such as multimedia, programming, 3D, graphic design and web page design. However each individual is in constant communication with one another and learn new ways of doing things that are effective and less time consuming.

Learning from your peers can be very beneficial for the individual and the company to grow. A simple tutorial or textbook can spark the desire to learn a new concept of your expertise. If another person can explain a concept better to you than watching a 10-minute video than the knowledge is more useful because the person is speaking about his or her own experiences.

Learning from your peers is a useful way to build communication skills and learn new concepts, ideas and receive constructive criticism in a way that has a lastly affect on the individual and their work. Presenting what you know or examples of your work can allow your peers to understand visually the ideas and projects you are working on; rather than reading a report or notes. The power of communication, networking and visual presentations will surpass texting, phone calls and social networking because the one on one communication and relay of information is that much more effective and leaves a lasting impression on the individual.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


In one of the episodes of Dragnet, which aired in the 1950's, it took a severe toothache and his partner's nudging to finally convince Joe Friday to approach the pain-filled potential of a dentist's chair. [Click here to see "The Big Frame"]. It is natural, people will avoid pain whenever possible. Avoiding pain, in fact, is one of the two basic motivators of people. The other is gaining pleasure. Pain, however as Joe Friday's behavior indicates, is said to be a much more effective motivator than pleasure. In fact, "actual" pain is not required for motivation, just the mere threat of pain -- the potential for pain.

I recently encountered a situation where merely the threat of pain was enough to ensure compliance with a simple request of mine. As they say in Dragnet, "Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to hear is true. Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent."

So, I'm in a toy store buying my son a toy. The problem began when several store issued coupons were not calculating the proper discount in the store cash register. No matter how diligently the store clerk worked at entering them correctly, she could not seem to calculate the proper discount. The scanner wasn't working properly ... the coupon was printed incorrectly ... or some combination of the two. The store manager was called in to help resolve the discrepancy. Her unpleasant demeanor indicated to me that she must have missed the customer service training program when they offered it to her. The simple request I made was to give me the discount and figure out the problem with the coupons later -- after my son and I are long gone from the store. The manager's "solution" to my dilemma was to tell me that I could go home, call the 1-800 customer service line, and solve the coupon problem myself. Her attitude was, at best, unhelpful and her demeanor unpleasant.

i-Phone to the rescue!

I pulled out my i-Phone and she naturally thought I was taking her suggestion to call the 1-800 number myself. I started an app that turns your i-phone into an audio-recorder. I told her: "This is recording now … would you like to say that again to me (and she knew what I really meant was -- in the demeaning and disrespectful way you just said it to me a second ago)?"

Instantly she changed her demeanor and in minutes my coupon problem was solved -- by her, with a smile on her face, and a free balloon for my three-year-old son. I really didn't do much other than provide a vision of potential pain to her imagination. The pain of the possible recording of our next few minutes together possibly being played back to her boss (someday in the future) was motivation enough. Interestingly, her pain was self-imposed. I didn't have to make any threat. Just attempting to record the rest of our conversation was enough for her imagination to kick in.

Her desire to avoid "potential pain" reminds me of a situation I have seen in my legal consulting work -- the pain that is created by one lawyer who effectively uses cutting-edge demonstrative evidence against an opposing lawyer who doesn't use technology at all. My experience here in the northeast is that lawyers new to the use of presentation technology, often don't contemplate using technology until they are faced with a big case or until they encounter the pain of seeing their opponent using it. Those , however, are really not the ideal times to start learning how to employ visual communication.

At trial, I have personally witnessed the opposing client (as we are wheeling into the courtroom several pieces of electronic equipment) ask his own lawyer (opposing counsel), if they will be using similar technology during the trial, as well. Knowing my opponent's expected answer ("No,") and watching him try to come up with an explanation to his client why none of that equipment is necessary, is actually painful for me. At mediation, I have also witnessed very good lawyers, after having been confronted with a devastatingly powerful visual presentation (which demonstrates our client's command of the facts, and ability to professionally and effectively present the evidence), feel the need to explicitly address the disparity, attempt to downplay the use of technology, and justify to the mediator why they didn't prepare an electronic presentation of their own.

How satisfied are you with your current use of multimedia technology? Do you need to wait, like Joe Friday until the pain is overwhelming to embrace the new technologies available to trial lawyers today? Or are you leading the way?