The high-tech changes taking place are spawning a new courtroom protocol and a new industry that revolves around technology vendors who can understand attorneys and predict where they might be going and be ready to call up an image or highlight a passage at a moment’s notice.
Smart Business spoke with Keith Langley, a partner with Godwin Pappas Langley Ronquillo LLP, to get some insights into the expansion of technology in courtrooms, how it affects the parties involved in litigation, and what business owners need to do to adapt to the changing courtroom environment.
How does the trend to high-tech trials affect participants?
For one thing, the way a jury decides a dispute is changing rapidly. In general, jurors nowadays have shorter attention spans than their counterparts of only 10 or 20 years ago, and they process information differently. They expect productions nowadays, complete with technologically advanced bells and whistles, rather than being handed plain pieces of paper.
Judges, too, are more astute now about the benefits of technology in their courtrooms. Moreover, they are setting new ground rules about how technology can be used, and impacting attorneys’ preparations and presentations as a result.
What do business owners need to know about trials in high-tech courtrooms?
Business owners involved in disputes that reach the high-tech courtroom must recognize that technology is changing the way trials are conducted, and they have to be prepared to work with attorneys who are comfortable with Hollywood-like presentations. They also have to understand that the introduction of updated technology can be more costly, which means they should always weigh the costs of alternative dispute resolutions against those of high-tech trials.
How does a technologically proficient attorney benefit clients?
An attorney’s ability to display relevant parts of documents or present evidence visually while questioning a witness simultaneously can be attractive to a jury. And, since some judges will not allow any paper in the courtroom, everything has to be done electronically. Then it becomes an issue of which attorney does a better job of using technology. The one who does it well has a significant advantage in the courtroom. Worse, the attorney who is technologically challenged runs the risk of alienating the jury.
The number of electronic documents in a case today can be overwhelming both to the attorney and technology vendor. Jurors are not forgiving, and even though there may be thousands of images, they expect the attorney and the technology vendor to be able to navigate through the documents without trouble.
How does the high-tech trend affect attorneys?
They have to embrace the technology and its concomitant changes, which makes preparation all the more important. For instance, they have to make sure their exhibits are digitized, know how to access them quickly, and make sure they are pre-admitted. They have to have their video cuts done, and scope out the venue before a trial. All the preparation in the world is useless if the courtroom is not equipped with the necessary technology.
Attorneys practicing due diligence in this respect will check a courtroom to see what equipment it does or doesn’t have, and supplement whatever is there by bringing in plasma displays or screens on which they can project images, or smaller monitors that they place strategically for the benefit of judges and jurors, etc.
What criteria should a client apply when hiring an attorney who is comfortable in a high-tech courtroom?
The first thing is to look for an attorney who is willing to do the work required to turn any courtroom into a high-tech courtroom, even if it is a 150-year-old venue. Clients have to find attorneys who know the judges and their preferences regarding technology in their courtrooms, and who embrace technology and understand the ways jurors filter information.
For example, they should ask attorneys if they are comfortable working with plasma screens, PowerPoint, the electronic display of evidence, and if they have the ability to tie everything together. They can also ask to see if the attorney has any Certified Electronic Discovery Specialists on staff to assist in the case.
Of course, the best approach is still to settle disputes before they get to the courtroom. That may be low-tech, but it is still the most cost-effective resolution.
KEITH LANGLEY is a partner and secretary/treasurer for Godwin Pappas Langley Ronquillo LLP in Dallas. Reach him at (214) 939-4458 or firstname.lastname@example.org.