Case Study: Tablet Computers in Litigation
Trial Presentation Consultant: Diarmuid Truax
Durango, Colorado is not known as a legal technology mecca. You won’t find an abundance of high profile cases with national firms using cutting-edge litigation technology. In fact, you are more likely to stumble across world-class mountain biking trails and beautiful mountain vistas.
Yet on a sweltering July day in 2012, the glow of computer monitors and the click of keyboards permeated a normally quiet courtroom in the sleepy La Plata County courthouse. A team of five Colorado law firms were mobilizing for a 6-week construction defect case. With all of the hustle involved with this case, you might have mistaken this Durango courtroom for one in New York City. All of the latest trial technology gadgets were being deployed including flatscreen monitors, trial presentation software, ELMOs and iPads. Our job, as usual, was to make the cogs in the presentation wheel hum and purr. Prior to trial, one of the trial teams had tried to throw a wrench – or more accurately, an iPad, into our well-oiled machine.
The beloved iPad has become a tool that many trial attorneys are trying to incorporate into their practice. The ability to hold this novel device in your hand to access and manipulate your evidence wirelessly does have a unique and undeniable appeal. It says, “the future is now, right here, in this courtroom and I’m using it to help you understand evidence!” When I was a little kid, I used to think that a new pair of shoes would make me run faster. At some point I realized that just having a newer and better tool doesn’t automatically make me better. I had to learn how to use it too. Our challenge in Durango was putting all of the pieces together (including people using tools they don’t quite know how to use). The problem became making it all work seamlessly. That’s what we were hired to do.
The technology sorcerers at Apple probably don’t spend a great deal of time pondering how trial attorneys can connect their iPads to multiple displays in a courtroom environment. Yet, in our little corner of the legal tech world, there is clearly a demand to make that happen. Someone was going to have to rise to the task and our hands shot up when we were asked to integrate the iPad into our courtroom system. Here is our secret to making it all work:
While Apple TV is not made for courtroom presentations specifically, it does have a clever little feature that lends itself to being a viable courtroom display device. With Apple TV you can stream your iPad’s content wirelessly into a TV. With some creative thinking, you can also stream it into an entire courtroom system.
The Apple VGA connector
If there is one thing we have learned from years of working with technology in the courtroom, it is to have a solid backup plan. While the Apple TV solution worked in this particular situation, you never know when you might run into problems. For example, I have noticed that with Apple TV there are times when the pesky device insists on updating its own software. This of course happens right when your popcorn is ready, the fire is going and you are tucked in, ready to watch your movie. It can take up to 20 minutes to update. Now imagine this scenario in a courtroom. While the jurors might enjoy the popcorn, the judge is certainly not going to like the 20-minute delay in proceedings. The lesson here is to make sure you buy the $30 VGA adapter cable in case you need to plug directly into your display system.
While everything worked well from an equipment point of view, there were hiccups in the presentation. They invariably came from the attorney not being well versed on how to use his iPad. He would inadvertently press the home button and the jury would see all of the apps he had on his home screen. I can safely say that, unless it is involved in some sort of litigation, Angry Birds is never welcome in the courtroom. On top of that, his general ability to manipulate items through multi-touch gestures was not as smooth as it could have been.
To sum up, there are clear advantages to embracing new technology in the courtroom including the iPad. Jurors no longer see technology use as something only the big players can afford. They all likely have tablet computers themselves. The litigator who uses technology seamlessly is viewed as organized and progressive. Jurors recognize and appreciate the extra steps taken to increase efficiency.
The real takeaway is to know when and how to properly utilize courtroom technology. It’s probably not a good idea to figure this out on your own. The courtroom is a terrible place to test new technologies. There are many experts out there who have already made the mistakes and have systems in place for you to look like a tech wizard for your next case.