Easy Steps to Put Technology to Work in your Trial Practice
No. 1: Get over it.
legendary trial lawyers captivated juries with no more than the power of
their words and the compelling mental pictures those words painted. The
trial masters seemed to require no more litigation support than they
found penciled between the lines of a canary colored legal pad. On the
rare good day, armed with only a legal pad and toe-to-toe with the jury,
you and I can work a semblance of the same magic that made the great ones
great. But, in those long twilights between flashes of forensic
brilliance, most of us need all the help we can get to reach and persuade
jurors weaned on television and multimedia. I get that help from the
judicious application of some powerful new technologies, and so can you.
Here are ten easy and affordable steps you can take to put technology to
work in your trial practice.
No. 1: Get over it.
No. 2: Selecting the Right Computer
If you plan to use the graphics technologies discussed later in this article, you should maximize system RAM (memory), VRAM (video card memory), hard drive size (storage) and, to a lesser extent, processor speed. For photo image manipulation or video editing, bigger is definitely better. Opt for more than 256MB of RAM now, while RAM prices are dirt-cheap. Windows XP needs far more RAM than its predecessors to run well, so dont stint--more is better. Demand 16 or more megabytes of VRAM, greater than 40 gigabytes of storage and a 1.5-2 GHz or faster Pentium IV processor. Throw in a CD-RW (CD burner) and expect to pay only $600.00 to $1,000.00 for a desktop system with these enhancements.
A small-but-growing cadre of dedicated law office Macintosh users swears by their chosen platform. Apple computers do offer some important advantages, especially with respect to ease-of-use, stability and graphics tasks. However, as there is something like ten PCs on lawyers desks for every Macintosh and a much wider selection of hardware and software, the PC remains the best choice for those whose principal goal is to maximize their hardware and software options, as well as their compatibility with the vast majority of computer users.
One important point to keep in mind is that processor speed has almost nothing to do with the speed of your Internet connection. The speed and quality of your modem, in conjunction with the type and quality of your phone line and the reliability of your Internet service provider, are the only significant determinants of how fast you will be able to retrieve information from the Internet.
If you have the desk space and budget to accommodate a large screen monitor (?17), youll do well to buy the big screen. Unless youre in the habit of watching movies at your desk, dont bother spending money on a DVD drive for a desktop computer; although, the ability to watch DVD movies is a very desirable feature in a laptop used by frequent flyers. LCD monitors have dropped in price sufficiently to make them a viable option for any budget. They free up desk space, offer excellent resolution and look really cool.
Choosing the right laptop isnt easy. They cost twice as much as a comparably equipped desktop model, and price isnt a reliable measure of quality or performance. Here again, focus on how you will actually use the laptop. Weight and battery life are significant considerations if you travel. Generous video memory (>32MB VRAM) and a direct-to-television output are desirable features if you plan to use the laptop for demonstrative purposes. Look for an active matrix display (XGA TFT) in as large a size as your budget will allow, a built-in 56K V.90 modem, an Ethernet (NIC) connection, a FireWire port (also referred to as IEEE 1394 or i. LINK. port) and a USB 2.0 port, 256 MB of RAM and a 30 gigabyte or larger hard drive.
No. 3: Get Online
No. 4: Use Online Networking
The single most amazing online networking opportunity is TrialSmith. Trial lawyers can search the full text of over 100,000 depositions and online data. Its not free, but you can find out if the information you need is in the database before you incur any charges.
No. 5: Use Online Reference Sources
Attorney Howard Nations maintains a well-organized and comprehensive list of links useful to lawyers at his website http://www.howardnations.com. Although covering many topics well, this site is especially handy when researching brain injury matters.
Two great online resources for the creation of demonstrative evidence are Corbis and Google Images. Corbis offers access to over 25 million images, with 1.4 million available online and searchable by keyword. Typically a license to use an image costs three dollars. Google Images brings the incomparable search savvy of Google to bear on finding of images by keyword query. The site has more than 390 million images indexed, so nothing else comes anywhere close. If you run the Microsoft Office suite of programs, you have ready access to hundreds of thousands of clip art images, photographs and sound samples in the Microsoft Design Gallery Live.
Dont forget that Lexis offers solo and small firm practitioners unlimited usage of individual state libraries for about $100.00 per month as part of its MVP program. Westlaw offers a similar option as WestlawPRO.
No. 6: Go Paper Less, If Not Paperless
No. 7: Reap the Benefits of Remote Computing
You can also access your office computer as if you were physically present using software packages like Laplink ($135.00) or PCAnywhere ($170.00) or an amazing subscription-based web resource called GoToMyPC. Even without special software, Windows 95, 98 and XP allow you to set up an office computer to permit remote dial up networking. For details, read the Windows help section on Remote Dial Up Server. Windows XP, the latest version to come down the pike, now includes remote desktop connection and file transfer as part of the operating system.
No. 8: Enhance the Visual Component of your Cases
The razzle-dazzle of demonstrative evidence is now so cheap and easy to create; its a must in all your cases. To illustrate, the adjuster evaluating your clients claims probably has a file cabinet full of soft tissue injury cases, and we all know how hard it is to get value for those cases. How, then, can you make your sore neck car wreck case more compelling and show that it deserves to be settled for full value? One way to add value and jury appeal to the dread minor impact/soft tissue injury case is with some homebrew custom video. I like to use my video camera to add a different perspective to a routine claim. Depending upon the issues in the case, I might take brief footage of the accident scene, vehicles and driver perspectives, or of a physical therapy session or physician interview. I may tape parts of a clients home, to show idle sports equipment or a beloved-but-now-untended garden. The images will vary from case to case, but every case has some images that lend themselves to this technique, and anything is more interesting than nothing at all. Ill digitize the video using an inexpensive video capture device. Such devices can take the form of either a board that goes inside your computer or an external device that plugs into the computers USB port, and they range in price from under $70.00 to almost $1,000.00. Most video capture devices come bundled with video editing software. Once on my desktop computer, Ill use video editing software to add transitions, titles and voiceovers. The resulting production can then be copied onto videotape or, better yet, burned onto a CD-ROM using a CD recording device.
No. 9: Invest in a CD or DVD Recorder
A device that will permit you to create your own compact discs can be purchased for under $100.00, with generic units costing half that price. A DVD burner will set you back $200.00 to $300.00. The blank discs cost less than twenty cents in bulk for ones you can record once (called CD-R) and about $1.00 for a type that can be reused (called CD-RW). Blank DVDs run a few dollars more, but the higher costs buys much greater capacity. A CD-R holds about 650 megabytes of data (about thirty minutes of moderately compressed video) and a recordable DVD holds a whopping 4.7 gigabytes of data. High data density and durability make recordable discs an excellent choice to back up computer data, meaning that many lawyers could carry a mirror of their office networks or all of the documents in a particular case on a single disc.
No. 10: Learn PowerPoint