Eleven Vital Things to Do BEFORE You Use Your Laptop Computer in the Courtroom
By David D. Adams, OnTargetVisuals
1. DEAD BATTERY
Make sure you don’t lose power! There you are, moving through your morning presentation with your computer humming along nicely. Then, you get the low power warning, or the machine simply goes to sleep. Inadvertently, you’ve been running on battery power all morning. Typically, this happens because it seemed that everything was plugged in correctly, but you actually have a loose or missing connection.
1. Many notebook power supplies come in two pieces, a) the power-brick that plugs into the 110 volt wall socket; and b) the cord that goes from the power-brick to the notebook. On numerous occasions, we’ve seen these connections wiggle loose. On our machines, we glue the extension into the power-brick to eliminate this possibility.
2. Windows XP has a plug icon in the system tray in the lower right corner of the screen that shows either “battery,” “battery charging” or “plugged in.” Make sure that you and your operators understand how your particular computer indicator functions and that you check the indicator as soon as you are set up.
2. SCREEN SAVERS, SOFTWARE FIREWALLS AND UPDATERS
You don’t want the judge and jury hearing cute sounds or seeing silly screen savers. Also, you don’t want firewall or virus checking software “auto-running” in the middle of your presentation.
Solution: Avoid these problems entirely. Set up a separate configuration log-on to use in the court. In Windows XP you do this with the User Accounts Manager, which is located in the Control Panel. In Windows 2000, you do this with the Users and Passwords Manager. We recommend the following courtroom configuration:
1. No sound scheme
2. No screen saver
3. No virus checker or auto-updater running
4. No software firewall or other security program that runs automatically
In Harris County and some other Courts, the built in sound systems are quite good and the podium has a 1/8″ audio jack which is the standard on all computers.
In other Courts: If you’re going to be playing deposition videos, audio recordings or other multimedia files, invest in a proper sound system. In early 2005, I was watching our opposing side present a key piece of evidence, a tape recording, using a single, low-quality PC-type speaker. It was barely audible and the jury was unable to comprehend the opposition’s point regarding a conspiracy. On the other hand, our more robust system playing an enhanced version of the audio was quite easy for the jury to follow. Inadequate sound amplification is one of the most common and devastating mistakes I see in court.
Professional speaker systems can be rented from any of the AV services for about $150/day. If you’d like to save money and have your own, we recommend Cambridge SoundWorks Mick Fleetwood Signature™ Model Twelve Portable Music System. http://www.cambridgesoundworks.com
Brightness is key. Projector brightness is measured in Lumens. For a mediation in a small conference room, 1200 Lumens is sufficient. For trial, you’ll need a minimum of 2000 Lumens, and we prefer 3000 Lumens. On another note, be careful that you don’t run a video cable more than 20 feet without adding a “VGA amplifier” when setting up. Excessively long cables without amplification will lead to signal fading and/or poor quality.
5. ACTIVE X
“Active X” is an element of the Microsoft Windows programming system. Common courtroom presentation software such as TrialPro, Sanction and TrialDirector rely on Active X to control how Windows performs various multimedia functions. This is particularly true of “.mpg” videos. We’ve seen some programs, TrialPro in particular, suffer failures simply because the Windows XP “auto-update” feature was enabled. One week, TrialPro played video fine, the next week, it crashed every time a video was played in dual-view mode. The culprit turned out to be an Active X update.
Solution: Make sure you thoroughly test every type of evidence and every software function the night before trial and that you turn off Windows XP Auto Updating in the Control Panel for the duration of your trial.
6. PLANNING & REHEARSAL
Practice, practice, practice. Know your presentation and have an audience review your presentation in advance. Try it out so that you understand what elements you’re going to cut if you run short on time. The most common presentation glitches we see in the courtroom stem from last minute changes. For instance, unorganized changes may cause your files to end up strewn across multiple folders, which makes things difficult to find or breaks database links.
Take a close look at software specifically designed for litigation. TrialPro (http://www.trialpro.com) is the original and simplest to use. TrialDirector (http://www.indatacorp.com) and Sanction (http://www.verdictsystems.com) offer similar functionality. All three programs allow you to integrate documents, photos and videos into one interface with interactive tools. Additionally, these programs allow you to jump around in your presentation in any order you wish. PowerPoint is a “linear” presentation package. In other words, you must go in slide order, 1,2,3,4,5, etc. Lastly, in PowerPoint all your text effects (zooms) must be pre-scripted, making it one of the most preparation-intensive presentation software tools for litigation.
8. E-MAIL & WEB ACCESS
Ideally, you should set aside a dedicated computer for use in the courtroom and it should never be used for e-mailing or web access. E-mail is by far the most common way to get a crippling virus on your machine. At a minimum, set up a separate login as in step 2 above and keep your anti-virus program updated.
9. LASER POINTER
Spend a few dollars on a laser pointer. It will really help the jury and the witnesses follow your questions.
Failures do happen. Ideally, you should have a complete, operational database / presentation on a second notebook computer. In addition to this step, we keep a third backup on an external hard disk. Also, have the phone numbers on hand for a rental service that can replace a blown projector bulb or help you with a problematic setup. This is especially important if you’re traveling out of town and will be away from your usual office support.
11. CHECK WITH THE COURT COORDINATOR
The physical layouts of courtrooms vary widely and judges often have very specific preferences as to where a projector and screen may be placed. We’ve also learned that some judges are very particular about where computer operators sit in relation to the jury box. A few days before the trial begins, call the court coordinator and check on the following:
1. Inform the court of what equipment you will be using.
2. Ask the court if they have a preference for sharing equipment between the parties.
3. Determine where a projector and screen, or multiple monitors will be set up.
4. Find out when equipment setup can occur. Sometimes this can happen before the jury selection and sometimes afterwards or during a lunch break.
5. If possible, visit the courtroom personally so that you can plan accordingly.
About the Author:
Since 1987, David Adams has consulted on hundreds of civil litigation cases involving Accounting Malpractice, Asbestos, Aviation, Birth Trauma, Breach of Contract, Employment, Franchise, Intellectual Property, Legal Malpractice, Medical Malpractice, Oil & Gas, Personal Injury, Pollution, Premises Liability, Product Liability, Railroad Crossings, Securities, Silicosis and Texas DTPA. He and his staff have provided design services, exhibit board production, digital video, animation, courtroom presentation services, database implementation and high-speed document scanning for cases involving major corporations such as: Texaco, Enron, Schlumberger, TransOcean, Dominion Energy, Technip Offshore, The Houston Chronicle, Christus Hospital, Memorial-Hermann Hospital, Baylor College of Medicine, Ford Motor Company, Toyota Motor Corporation, TRW, Continental Airlines, Citibank, Chubb Insurance, AIG Insurance, AON Insurance, United States Internal Revenue Service, Kwik-Kopy Corporation, Union Pacific Railroad and Southern Pacific Railroad.