Imagine if every member of your jury entered the courtroom with a basic understanding of how to navigate the legal system. Instead of spending precious time trying to explain the basics of law practices, you could focus on the evidence and timeline of your case. They would understand your presentation and you wouldn’t lose their attention. It probably sounds too good to be true.
While this scenario may seem unrealistic and out of reach, Kimball Parker, the creator of the legal education website CO/COUNSEL, announced a solution that will make that dream a reality. It’s called LawX.
Partnering with Gordon Smith, dean of Brigham Young University’s Law School, Parker plans to create a legal design lab this upcoming fall semester. This lab will be dedicated to brainstorming solutions for the thousands of people who have limited knowledge of legal affairs. According to an article published in the Daily Herald, “This is a serious issue because navigating the law is very difficult and the consequences are high…If you make the wrong move, you can lose a lawsuit. Period.”
Individuals working with LawX hope to develop software and new legislation to implement the change that many Americans desperately need. Because a new legal topic will be tackled each semester, LawX participants have plenty of work on their plates.
But how does this new design lab affect your jury? With legal practices and methods being presented in a way that is more accessible and more easily understood, more of the general population will better comprehend the events that occur within a courtroom. They will understand the language of your case and presentation, and their decisions will be based on evidence and facts rather than their own personal biases and perceptions of litigators.
Not only will the jury benefit from the work of this design lab, but attorneys will have additional tools to better communicate with their clients about the proceedings of a case. Although the many benefits of LawX won’t be obvious immediately, we can have confidence that innovation in the legal field is headed in a promising direction.
Check out this video for more details about the potential solution to legal inexperience.
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Dan, a young and ambitious attorney, strides confidently into the courtroom. Sure, he’s a little nervous, but he has practiced this presentation several times, and he knows he can convince the jury in his favor. Plus, he’s using powerful trial presentation software to help him out. What could go wrong?
The opposition, judge and jurors arrive, and it’s finally time for Dan to begin. He brings up the first image of his presentation on the big screen and starts to talk. He starts out strong. He already feels a rhythm. The jury is hanging on his every word, but then disaster occurs. He clicks to the next image in his presentation, but instead of the picture he’s expecting, a different image with the words “No Image Available” dominates the screen.
Dan fumbles for a precious second or two, but then he gets back on track. He’s embarrassed, but he breezes over it. He makes a quick joke, sees some of the jury chuckle, and clicks to the next image. Thankfully, the next image is there and he quickly gets back to his rhythm. It was just a hiccup, he’s not ruined.
He continues clicking through his images, building up steam for the big reveal at the end, but it happens again.
“No Image Available”
Dan is devastated, his face is flushed red. He can see members of the jury rolling their eyes. The judge is glaring at him. Dan quickly finishes up his remarks and sits down, fuming over what just happened.
Where did the images go? They were all there when he practiced yesterday, how did they just magically disappear?
What went wrong?
Dan fell victim to a misunderstanding of how the technology he was using worked. But before we get into what exactly happened to Dan, let’s go over some basics of that technology. Specifically, databases.
Understanding Database Basics
Whether Dan knew it or not, he was using a database to reach and work with his case documents.
In the most basic terms, a database is an organized collection of metadata, or in other words information, that describes items within the database. As it applies to Dan and other attorneys using trial presentation software, a database is a sort of metadata repository of all the images and other documents that Dan puts into it.
However, it is important to note and reiterate that the database doesn’t hold the actual images themselves, but the metadata or information about those images: Where the images are located, what they are named, when he entered them into the database, and any other information Dan decides to enter.
Aside from just being trial presentation software, trial preparation and presentation applications also serve as minor document management systems which often use a database. That’s what you’re actually working with when you import files into a case, organize them, and mark them up.
Working with a database is a little different than you might think because even though you’re working with the actual files, those files are not housed within the application itself.
If it helps, think of using a database like using an Elmo document projector or some other projection machine. The image that is being projected onto the screen or wall is not the real, original image. It is a reference to the real image being projected on the Elmo.
In a database, the files are only referenced. Therefore, if the referenced files are ever moved, it breaks the application’s connection.
See where we’re going with this?
When Dan opens an image in his application, the application is using the information in the database to find the image and show it to him in the document viewer.
That is one of the many things that are misunderstood about databases. When you import a file into these systems, you’re basically just telling the program where to look to find the image. If that image is ever moved, then the application won’t know where to find it.
So, why do these software tools use databases? Why not just house the files right in the application so that you never have the “No Image Available” problem?
We’ll approach this question conceptually. A given case has the potential to have several thousand documents, even tens of thousands, in various states of progress. Not to mention the many many hours of deposition and evidence video. While we don’t recommend you importall your case documents into your trial presentation tool, you’re going to want to at least import several hundred that might be relevant to your presentation at trial.
Any one image file can have a large file size on its own. One video, like a deposition, can be several hours long, making the file size much much larger than an image. These large sizes present several problems.
First, it would take a large amount of time to actually get the files into the software. Then, once they are there, you need a system to keep track of all the information being processed along with each document. Having to manually look for each file as if you were looking through the Windows file explorer for each of the thousands of documents in your case would eat up a lot of precious time.
We are extremely aware of the precious time of attorneys.
Instead of all that noise, we can use a database. A database puts all the information you need about a document right in front of you in an easy-to-read manner, letting you get back to what matters: strategizing, developing arguments, and winning your case.
A database makes everything much faster, more efficient and gets you what you need. Since it only references the files that are already on your computer, the file size when importing documents becomes much smaller and much faster to import. It also makes tracking all the information related to each file much easier and provides the possibility of adding information as a document goes through the case process.
In short, databases make working with loads of case documents much more streamlined and efficient, speedily getting you the information you need. All it takes on your part is a little more basic knowledge of what a database is and how to approach using one.
What about Dan?
To sum up, after a file is imported into a trial presentation tool, if somebody moves that file, it breaks the path the database uses to find it and the application can’t find the file anymore, resulting in “No Image Available”.
So what happened to Dan? Remember him? Turns out, even though he had practiced and made sure his presentation was ready to go, his paralegal, Rachel, was still working well into the night on the case. While she worked, she had to move some files around on the computer. Some of those files she moved were referenced in Dan’s presentation software.
See the problem?
Yep. You guessed it. Moving the files broke the reference his application needed to find them, so when Dan tried to call them up in his presentation, he got the dreaded screen.
There are a couple solutions we recommend you use to help avoid experiences like these, but hopefully, this article gives you a better idea of how managing documents works in most trial preparation and presentation applications.
Have you seen the “No Image Available” picture come up during a presentation? What did you do to get through it?
TrialDirector isn’t just a trial presentation tool. It also serves as a sort of document management system that helps you keep track of relevant case items and information throughout the whole trial process. We want to help you know how to use this and other tools to their full potential.
One of the first steps when using TrialDirector or any other trial presentation and evidence management software is to import relevant case items into whatever tool you are using. However, the information you provide along with the evidence you are importing determines whether you will have an easy or hard time as the case progresses.
Most trial presentation software use a database reference files on your computer and help you keep track of the information related to each evidence item. Following are our suggestions to consider when importing documents into the software to make your life easier as the case progresses and as you prepare for trial.
Only Bring In What You Need
First, you want to think about scaling down the number of documents you want to import. Any given case potentially has thousands, even tens of thousands, of documents. You’re not going to use every single piece of that evidence even before or during trial.
We recommend you review and sift through your case documents and choose the documents you’ll actually be working with. Then, import those relevant documents into your trial preparation and presentation software.
If it helps to think in terms of numbers, If your case has 1000 documents, you should consider only importing about 100 documents. Roughly 10%. Much more than that, and you’ll have a difficult time working around all the documents you are not using.
Scaling down in this way makes for a much simpler experience when managing and prepping your files for trial.
As an example, think about what it would take to actually search for a needle in a haystack. How would you go about it? Would start picking through the hay one strand at a time? That is what many firms are forcing themselves to do by either working with physical documents or dumping all their case files haphazardly onto their computers. But if you break up and significantly reduce the amount of hay you would have to look through, it becomes much easier to find the needle (The file you’re looking for).
And don’t worry, you can always bring in more files later if needed.
Know What Your Documents Are Before You Import
This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s necessary. As we already mentioned, case loads get rather hefty. If you just dump a bunch files into your trial presentation software without really knowing what is going in there, it’s going to be that much harder to find things when you need them, especially when you’re working with limited time.
It pays to put in the work of knowing what your files are beforehand.
As you review, re-naming your documents can have just as much of an impact on your ability to find them as organizing them does.
For example, think of enthusiastic cat owners. However they got to have all those hundreds of cats, they’re here now, and the owners better have a good way of keeping track of them. That’s why the owners use simple, but creative names for each cat. That way, the owners and the cats don’t get confused when the owners call out for one of them to come.
We’ve seen some trial teams use long detailed descriptions for each of their documents. While it may feel that that will make it easier to find the documents in the future, it turns into a problem when you add 1000 other documents all with very descriptive names.
That’s like the cat owners naming each cat something like “the one with the frizzy fur, black spot, and gimp leg.” Not very efficient.
You are the cat owner. Your case documents are your cats.
We recommend you go through each document you plan to import into your trial prep tool and rename it something simple and easy to reference. The easiest thing to name each file is its exhibit number or bates number.
Team and Computer Organization
A common problem with many law firms is organizing all the files related to a case. When a firm receives images from a vendor, the firm might dump all the files they received into whatever folder they set up for the case on their computer without even looking through and organizing what they received. These folders are generally accessible to the entire firm which means all the files inside are subject to being moved around or even deleted by accident.
As mentioned before, TrialDirector uses a database to reference evidence files instead of actually housing the files in the program itself. There are several major advantages to using a database in this way, but one of the disadvantages is that if the file being referenced is moved or deleted, the database loses it and TrialDirector can’t find it.
As you’ve probably guessed or even experienced, this is a problem. Don’t get caught with your pants down in the middle of a trial.
Without the most basic organization rules, all the thousands of case files quickly become mixed up and hard to navigate. By rushing the process of getting files into a case, you are setting yourself up for a lot of headaches down the road and precious hours of wasted time.
Regardless of how well you think your firm is organized, consider the following suggestions:
Set some file organization rules in your firm. Even the simplest rules go a long way. Our general suggestion would be to set up your files so that you can easily know where to go to find what you’re looking for without having to dig through multiple folders just to get there.
Communicate the rules to everyone. Everyone involved in the case needs to know where each case is located and what is allowed to be moved around and what is not.
Create a separate, new case folder for each case, and only put the files related to that case into the folder.
Divide case files into two folders within the main case folder: Exhibits and Depositions. Dividing files into these folders makes it that much easier to find what you need quickly.
Copy the files to a new, separate case folder before sending them to TrialDirector or any other database or trial presentation program. Doing this will further mitigate any mistakes in moving or deleting files
This type of organization beforehand not only makes your life as a paralegal or attorney better in general, but it makes it easier when importing into trial presentation software.
Think of the PDF as a sort of universal language of all the other image file types out there.
Pretty much anyone can open a PDF file. So, if you have to give the file to the opposition or some other party in a case, you can avoid any back and forth that comes from that party not being able to open the file because you already gave them the PDF.
Sometimes courts require you to provide PDFs so you can get a head start there by converting all your files now.
PDFs are also generally easier to import and move around than other file types. They act as a sort of container. For example, one PDF file, even though it’s a single file, can hold many pages at once. So instead of having to move around or send a bunch of single page files, such as Tiffs or other image files, you can send one PDF file with all the pages contained inside.
Working with single page files carries its own set of headaches that we won’t get into detail here, but there is a little more involved when trying to get them into trial presentation software.
As an added bonus for PDFs, you have the option to reduce the file size with PDFs, making file transfers that much easier and quicker.
Do yourself a favor and simplify the way you work with documents by following these principles and using trial preparation and document management software.
What has helped you when using trial preparation and presentation software?
When you started law school you probably had some sort of plan. At the very least you planned to attend class, study, and graduate. Then came the bar exam which required another plan to study, prepare, and learn even more.
Have you made other plans? Run a marathon, lose weight, learn a new language, go on a safari?
Whatever the objective, whether personal or professional, it requires a plan. Some things take little planning and some take a lot.
Can you run a marathon without training first? Maybe, but it’s probably painful and there may be lasting (and negative) effects.
Can you lose 20 pounds overnight? If so, tell me how!
Is it possible to become fluent in a new language in a week? Well, this teenager did, but it isn’t the safest way.
And if you can go on a safari at this very moment, I’d like to switch places with you. But chances are you need to plan time off from work, renew your passport, find someone to watch the kids, book a flight, pack, and find a good safari guide.
It’s the same thing when you go to trial. Do you have a plan for that?
Do You Plan for Trial?
So, maybe it’s a little early and a trial is still a few months away. A few motions are pending and there’s a chance the case will settle. You don’t need to prepare for trial, right?
Benjamin Franklin said: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
Everything you do on your case is preparation for something: you prepare pleadings and interrogatories; you prepare for depositions and hearings; you prepare for settlement negotiations. What about trial?
Start using trial presentation software like TrialDirector for more than presentation – use it to prepare and you’ll be ready to present.
With a tool like TrialDirector, you can load your case data and start organizing with workbooks, searching documents, and creating exhibit lists in Microsoft Word. Then generate reports in PDF that can be emailed or copied into court filings. These tools will help when you ultimately go to trial but can also be leveraged early for settlement talks, analysis, and strategy.
Wait, TrialDirector Is for More Than Presentation?
Yes! The best trial presentation software does more than present. When you start using TrialDirector before trial you help yourself and your case. Let me tell you how:
First, today the pressure is off, so you are learning TrialDirector while you work and prepare. When you take things in stages, they are much easier to understand and absorb.
Second, while you’re learning TrialDirector, you’re reviewing the evidence. Better yet, while you’re reviewing the evidence, you are learning TrialDirector. Here’s a quick example:
Do you need all documents regarding ethylene glycol in once place? Make a workbook, call it Ethylene Glycol, and file any documents in it.
Want to give these to an ethylene glycol expert? No problem, simply export the workbook to a PDF that you can print or email.
These are pretty simple things to do, but when you’re under the gun, the easiest things can seem overwhelming. When you start using TrialDirector for more than just presentation, you’ll be able to put it to use early and to your advantage.
Third, all the organization you do in TrialDirector today will help you prepare tomorrow: your Ethylene Glycol workbook also functions as a presentation folder so you don’t need to recreate it for trial purposes.
(A quick note: Workbooks are one of the easiest and most useful TrialDirector functions. Make as many as you need and name them anything you want. Also, the same document can be filed in multiple workbooks!)
TrialDirector is a three-birds-with-one-stone program. Actually, it’s a stone for many, many birds, but we want to keep this brief. And please note, we do not advocate violence against birds or any other creature. Only idioms.
What Should I Do?
Like vacation planning, living healthfully, and learning a new skill, using trial technology needs planning too.
Get TrialDirector now, before trial. Make your life easier and use it to plan and prepare for trial. Start loading your data. If you aren’t sure how, the time to learn is before the trial time-crunch. Right now, you have the luxury of time. Maybe not an abundance of time but, probably more now than when trial is one week or one month away. The urgency and stress of an impending trial date aren’t looming over you.
Also, consider attending a TrialDirector University training course. Extra time will be something you don’t have when the calendar flips to trial month.
What tools do you use to prepare for trial or other events in a case?