Use of Computers in the Courtroom
COMPUTERS IN THE COURTROOM
Gregory G. Jones
The Law Firm of Gregory G. Jones
Computers can help to enhance your performance in the courtroom since much of what we do in the courtroom is manage and present information. Computers, and much of the technology surrounding them, are designed specifically for the purpose of managing, communicating and presenting information. By better managing and presenting information, which must be presented to the jury and the judge, we increase our chances of winning. The old ways of presenting cases are still typically used and still serve their purpose. But whether a case is large or small, there is no reason not to use the computer to help present a case to a judge and jury. You can continue to present cases in the traditional way but I doubt anyone today would take a horse and buggy to the courthouse when you can drive an automobile. Both will get you to the courthouse but the car is faster, more efficient, safer (under present circumstances), air conditioned, and all of your opponents are using cars. My guess is you would learn to drive a car pretty quick. Not using a computer in your trials is like riding to the courthouse in a horse and buggy, and for many of the same reasons.
All experienced attorneys have devised new ways to better manage and present information without using computers. We use "sticky notes" to mark places in depositions we consider important. We tab our files with thousands of tabs with very, very small handwriting. We highlight testimony and underline it. It is typical to take copious notes and then highlight, underline, and tab the NOTES we have taken to refer back to the original documents and/or testimony upon which they are based. Court reporters now offer transcripts in a reduced size, or condensed form, and a "concordance" which can be used to look up key terms to see where they occur in the deposition. Many law clerks, associates and legal assistants have spent hours "summarizing" depositions. Then the summaries are highlighted, tabbed, cross-referenced, and have "sticky tabs" put on them. We create incredibly intricate filing systems whereby we have everything organized into a myriad of classifications of information.
For purposes of presentation courtrooms are often filled with dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of foam core boards with documents, photographs, illustrations, and other forms of information affixed by or some other means glue (which always seem to come undone at the corners by the end of a trial). Many of these exhibits are very expensive. Medical illustrations or other similar drawings typically reach up to $2000.00 and more, and a typical reproduction and enlargement of a document ranging from $50.00 to $100.00. Keeping these large pieces of demonstrative evidence can be a huge job in and of itself.
In cases with a large number of documents there are boxes upon boxes of documents and information layering the courtroom and making it look like a dead file storage facility while the trial is proceeding. As a document is needed a legion of legal assistants or junior attorneys race through the boxes looking for the correct or needed document or information. Documents are lost and misplaced, sometimes they are not found until the trial is over, if then. The proceedings are slowed and the jury and judge are typically left wondering at the large numbers of boxes and dreading the possibility that they are actually going to have to see all the files and documents in the labyrinth created by the stacks of boxes.
In each of the above examples we can all see ourselves. We all still use many of the methods of preparing a case for trial and organizing it for presentation, which are set out above. We do that even though we are in effect riding a horse and buggy to the courthouse. This is because the computer and the technology is here now to handle all of the information we need to present at trial in a more efficient way than many of us currently handle that information today.
The surprising thing is, that using the computer can actually be much more cost effective. This is true when looking at the attorney and staff time involved in preparing and presenting a case, in terms of the actual materials cost and even in terms of the potential to win your case through better and more efficient presentation. This is especially true if you are working on some type of a contingent fee arrangement. Not using computers in the courtroom now is costing you money and time. There is no doubt about it.
Computers, the attendant software, and the devices that often work in conjunction with them, help you by doing just what they are designed to do. Do a better job of organizing large amounts of information and helping to locate and present that information. This paper will explore two basic categories of information management and presentation. One deals with the hardware that is used to hold the information, store it, retrieve it, display it and allow us to carry larger amounts of that information around without stacks of boxes. The other deals with the "software", or the programs, which actually organize the information into something that can be used and located. Various kinds of software will also let you perform seeming "miracles" in the courtroom when it comes to managing information and presenting it to the jury.
With all of this change we cannot forget the most important thing. The goal is to persuade the both the judge and jury of our case and to win. All of the hardware and software is nothing but "bells and whistles" if we do not see results from the change. So, does it make a difference? Will using computers in the courtroom help you to win? Will the jury be put of by the "click and clack" of the keyboard of the computer during the course of a trial? The answer is that the jury expects you to use the best and newest technology to present your case. Millions of people use computers in their jobs and at home. Millions of people access the Internet regularly for business and fun. Students use computers in school. Perhaps most importantly, people see the use of computers in the courtroom on television. Thousands watched the O.J. Simpson trial and saw the computers on the desks of the lawyers and the judge. Exhibits were presented on the computer monitors and evidence was displayed using projection units. Documents were printed on site. Jurors are typically familiar with computers and accept them as a part of modern life. As for the "click and Clack" of the keyboard, just get a silent keyboard and the jurors will never hear it