Technology has changed the nature, organization and presentation of evidence in court proceedings. Its effects and benefits are undeniable, and there is no shortage of publications and presentations touting its wonders. With the inevitable attraction of newer and better things, you can overlook the potential pitfalls they present. So beware: Trouble lurks among the shiny new toys.
Make no mistake, I believe in the use of technology in litigation. Technology has made great improvements in the way information can be stored and presented in the courtroom. Exhibits can be enlarged and displayed with great ease, and demonstrative aids can be created by anyone with basic computer skills.
But there are some ways technology can be a hindrance rather than a help. Especially if you are one of those who use digital devices for everything, you should keep in mind the many disadvantages of using a laptop or tablet rather than good old-fashioned paper and a three-ring mask as your primary resource on trials. What are some of them?
Even with vastly improved technology, things will go wrong. Your laptop freezes at the wrong time. You’ll touch the wrong key, then endure the agony of trying to fix it with an entire courtroom waiting and watching. And it might not be fixed. What is the answer? Practice and patience.
2. Lack of readability.
Some laptop screens are hard to read from any sort of oblique angle. Computer screens are also usually smaller and messier than notebook pages and therefore harder to see. The answer? Consider readability when reviewing materials on your screen. Err (if at all) on the side of larger fonts, simpler pages, and those kinds of tools.
It is usually faster and easier to turn paper pages than to manipulate a mouse or a ball or even a touch screen. It is also easier and less intrusive in a court case to write a note in the margin of a written page than to write a record in a digital device. The answer? Do a dry run. Familiarize yourself with what you need to do and what you need to make this work.
The screen of an open laptop on a podium provides an additional physical barrier between you and the jury. It is one thing to have a colleague or assistant at the counsel table working on the computer; it’s quite another to have that screen literally separating you from your witness and the jury. The answer? Get help, and for God’s sake look up.
There is a magnetic attraction between your eye and the printed word, and somehow the computer screen has greatly increased the power of that attraction. Look around any restaurant or other public place: People spend time and money being with other people, and yet many are inevitably looking at their devices. If your eyes are on the screen, you increase the risk of losing the jury. The answer? Try your case to the jury, not to your laptop.
Technology allows us to do amazing things at astonishing speeds. Documents flash before us, highlights are pulled out, demonstrations flow and move and much more. It can be flashy, but it can also be fatal to your cause. Stop. Slow down. Dwell on important exhibits or connections. The goal is to help the jury learn and understand, not to create a light show. You should control the technology, not the other way around. The answer? Slow this train down.
7. Generational differences.
Some jurors, especially older ones, may see overuse of digital devices as an influence.
“Why does he always have to use that thing?” They might think. “Can’t he just talk to us?”
Technology continues to improve at a rapid pace, and attitudes change too (though not quite as quickly). Think long and hard about whether you really want or need the laptop on stage and how far you want to go with technology. Understand both the promise and the pitfalls of technology in trials.