The kind of day that just drags on in a perfect storm of bad luck. Her computer crashed right before she finished writing her quarterly report. For some reason, her office smelled like a rotting dairy farm, and she managed to spill her lunch all over her new blouse.
It was just one of those days.
As she flipped through her mail while walking through the front door of her tiny apartment, she paused on an official-looking envelope. “Official Jury Summons Smith County” was printed in a bright yellow box. Just like that, she knew the universe was working against her.
With no valid reason to be excused from jury duty, Jenna dutifully, yet grudgingly arrived at the appointed time and location to offer her services as a juror. When she arrived, she was amazed by the diversity of people who would be serving with her; people from a variety of backgrounds and education levels, all working together for a common goal.
But after the amazement came the worry. Jenna had earned a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting and considered herself fairly educated, and even she was stressed about understanding the court proceedings and vocabulary used by the judge and attorney. But there were other jurors who didn’t have the same educational opportunities as her, and she wondered how was she supposed to reach a verdict with people who were so different from her.
After everyone had entered the courtroom, the trial began. Jenna’s thoughts quickly left the case as she started to think about the work she needed to catch up on and when she would go grocery shopping. Occasionally, she would tune back into the trial, but it was hard to pay attention when they were using so many big words that she didn’t understand and showing documents that didn’t mean anything to her. If she wasn’t getting anything out of this, she doubted that any of the other jurors were understanding anything.
Does this sound familiar? It’s rare to find a group of jurors that are actively engaged during most of a trial, let alone the entirety of it. In a perfect world, each jury would be composed of 12 people from diverse backgrounds who are also well-versed in legal affairs while being wholeheartedly committed to pursuing justice. Since that situation isn’t a plausible option, we go for the next best thing: an appealing presentation.
Think back to your days in school when a professor would spend ten minutes writing on the board, and two minutes in you were mentally checked out; your jury isn’t any different. You can’t afford to spend time setting up documents, zooming in on images, and fast-forwarding to a specific segment of a deposition. You need to be able to present your case clearly and concisely so that the jury can understand and remember your presentation.
Yes, it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare a seamless case presentation beforehand; but if it helps the jury to reach the desired verdict, isn’t it worth it?
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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?
When you invest in software, do you ever wish it would do just a little more? On the other hand, have you ever found out something about the software you currently use that makes your job that much easier?
Sometimes the tools you use every day do everything you want them to do, but you may not know it. It’s a simple matter of learning a few tips and tricks to get to what you need.
Here are five things that you may not know that you can do with TrialDirector, the leading trial presentation software.
1 – Make a single PDF of some, or all, of your case items
Your case has hundreds of exhibits and thousands of pages. What if you need to review documents with a witness, expert, or colleague? It is much easier to review, share, and annotate documents as PDFs.
TrialDirector provides a really easy way to make PDFs of your documents.
Create a workbook and add items from your case. All you have to do is drag and drop. Then, right click on the workbook and choose “Send Workbook Contents To…” and select “PDF File.”
You can choose to export to a single PDF or multiple files and whether to apply markups.
The apply markups option will place any highlights, arrows, stamps, labels, etc…onto the PDF image. This is incredibly important and useful if you have redactions.
That’s it! Now you can save much more time as you review and prepare your case.
2 – Redact documents to keep private things private
Privileged information and private data are probably peppered throughout the evidence. You need to redact the information to protect you, your client, and your case.
Did you know TrialDirector lets you redact specific information from documents?
Not only that, but it lets you customize the redactions too. Choose white or black; with a border or without a border; labeled as “Redacted” or blank. Set your preferences in the Options area and they will apply to all redactions in your case.
To apply a redaction, open your annotation toolbar and select the Redact tool. Using your mouse, click, drag, and place the redaction on the desired areas. At this point, you’ll see the redaction is grayed over and you can still view the underlying image. This is helpful to you in the event you want to see the underlying text. However, when this image is printed or displayed in the presentation view, the redaction will display as white or black however you set it in your preferences.
There are times you will want to apply a redaction permanently. You can use TrialDirector for this too. Apply the redaction in the same manner as above. Next, make a PDF of the item(s) and apply the markups (see #1!) to the new file. Now you can send the redacted image(s) anywhere, and since the redaction was applied permanently to the new file, it cannot be removed.
3 – Use transcript search results in filings and other documents
You’re probably familiar with searching transcripts in TrialDirector. (In case you’re not: go to the Search tab in Transcript Manager, enter your word or phrase, choose any or all your transcripts, and click search…the results are displayed and you can expand them to see context! ßThat’s a bonus tip!).
“Great,” you might say, “but I want to include some of these in my motion. What good is it here?”
Use the Print function to create a PDF or “Print to File” to create a Word document. From there, you can copy and paste whatever you need into any document you like. You can then save your file so you can email, print, and share it with anyone you choose.
4 – Make pre-annotated presentations with Save Stage
Wait, what? Are we going the theater? Courtrooms may contain drama, but no, that’s not what we mean by “Save Stage”.
We think of the presentation display as a stage where you show your case. Often, you start with a blank or empty stage and present one item at a time. But there are times you want to show a detailed combination of a variety of types of evidence: perhaps zoom in on two sentences of a multi-page contract, play a video deposition clip, and show a picture all at the same time.
TrialDirector can easily handle this number of actors on the screen, but you don’t want to set it up in front of the jury or on-the-fly. It would take precious seconds and the jury might get impatient.
Instead, impress the jury by creating the exact presentation display of your three items ahead of time. When you set up the presentation screen beforehand, choose Save Stage from the presentation tool bar. Like performers taking places before the curtain rises, the stage is saved exactly as you designed. When you are in court, just select the saved stage you created and begin.
The jury sees what you want, when you want with no muss and no fuss. It holds their attention without wasting anyone’s time during trial. Now that’s impressive!
5 – Use TrialDirector and TrialDirector for iPad together
We love the freedom and comfort that the iPad provides, so we created TrialDirector for iPad. It’s a slimmed-down version of TrialDirector and gives you great functionality.
But what about the unexpected events at trial? What happens when you need to find that previously inadmissible document? How can you find and present it quickly and efficiently? This is one example where the strength of a PC or laptop comes in. All that processing power makes it easy to search for and present that now all-important document.
Use TrialDirector and TrialDirector for iPad together. For scripted, no-deviation style presentation like an opening statement or closing argument, the iPad is a great fit. But for questioning witnesses, searching for items, and creating a dynamic and commanding visual, stick with the power of the full version of the software.
In TrialDirector, you can make a TrialDirector for iPad workbook, place your items inside and export. You can also import case items into the iPad app using Dropbox, iTunes, BoxSync, or OneDrive.
Here’s a bonus to using the software and app together: the iPad automatically sorts everything alpha-numerically. But, do you want to present things alphabetically or in the order you set? When you use the TrialDirector for iPad workbook, TrialDirector for iPad will retain the organization structure you set so items will present in the order you want.
It’s easy to get used to using something for one purpose and stay inside a comfort zone. With a little training and creativity, TrialDirector is more than presentation…it’s your trial preparation and presentation solution.
What tips have helped you be more efficient during case management or have helped you create your best trial presentations?
With the internet at our fingertips, it seems like people, in general, can’t hold their attention as long as they used to. Most can’t go a few seconds without pulling out their phone to check the latest updates, pics, or videos. These same people are called on to decide fate in a courtroom as a jury where they’re expected to sit in a pew and listen to hours of presentation and testimony.
It’s rare for any of them to want to be there, let alone take the initiative to focus on the task at hand for an extended period.
Any given case can be important to the people involved with it directly, but to the people coming in on the jury, it’s not really part of their world. Jurors have their own worries and life issues that don’t stop just because they were selected to be part of a case.
So how do you get and keep a jury’s or any audience’s attention?
There’s a lot of general presentation tips out there, but we want to talk about things that work particularly well when in the courtroom, especially when using trial presentation software.
1. Put Yourself in the Audience’s Shoes
Have you thought about where the people you’re presenting to are coming from? Sure, you may have been part of the jury selection process. But that was to determine what impressions a particular jury member would bring with them into the case.
Attempting to find and cater your presentation to your audience’s interests provides a clear direction for you as you prepare. Otherwise, your shooting in the dark and hoping something sticks.
If you don’t have a team of jury consultants to do it for you, here are some examples of questions you might ask yourself as you prepare your presentation and witness examinations:
Where do the members of the jury come from?
What about their origins influence their tastes?
What influences their decisions?
What are they more prone to listen to?
As very general examples, if your audience is mostly coming from a small town, perhaps they appreciate a more “personal” approach. Maybe they want to hear more about the story or character of the people involved in the case. Or, perhaps they would be more likely to listen if you just presented yourself while limiting any other visual aids you might bring in.
On the other hand, if members of the jury are from a large, modern city, maybe they would be more interested in hearing the direct facts and would appreciate you just getting to the point without tip-toeing around.
In either situation, maybe your think it would be better to surprise the jury and get their attention by doing something they are not used to.
The point is to think about where your audience is coming from and mold the tools and content you use to fit their compulsions and interests.
No two presentations should be the same.
2. Repeat Repeat Repeat
In any presentation, if you want your audience to remember what you’re talking about, one of the best tools in your arsenal is to say and show the thing you want them to remember several times.
There’s quite a bit of science to back up the power of repetition. Basically, every time you let your audience see, hear and, best of all, feel what you want, you strengthen the synapses firing in their brain around that thing.
You should know what you want your audience to focus on well before trial starts. In fact, you should decide what that thing is very near to the case outset and then build your strategy around it. Doing this not only helps with knowing what you want your jury to focus on, but it can make you much more efficient in your case all the way to trial.
Don’t forget the tools that help you with repetition. With trial presentation software, you can quickly display items you want to keep fresh in the jury’s mind any time you want. No digging through folders and paper to try to find the right document or image. You can set it up to where all you have to do is type in a number on your computer and the document, image, or video you want will immediately appear on a big screen.
Then, remember that you can leave it up there. Think about how valuable it is having an image on a large screen for a long period of time. The jury won’t forget it. As you speak they can look and see exactly what you’re talking about. You can zoom in on the image, mark it to focus the jury’s eyes on where you want them to go, and even have the image show side by side with something else that you want to show.
Then, if you ever want to show it again, just type it in and it appears just like it did the first time. We cannot overstate how powerful using document management and trial presentation software to supplement your presentations.
3. Set the Tone
No matter what you’re presenting, you should decide how you want your audience to feel. Then, create an environment with your presentation to create that setting where they are most likely to feel what you want.
For example, if you want your audience to feel sad, you may want to use a softer voice as you tell a story and present accompanying images.
If you want your audience to feel excited, you could talk faster or create a rapid-fire presentation where your audience is shown pictures quickly one after the other.
In the end, just try to make sure that what you are doing in your presentation isn’t hindering the tone you need to get your point across.
4. Use Attention Getters
They call them attention getters for a reason. You don’t want to bore your audience by talking for a long time, so sprinkle some flavor throughout your time in front of them.
When working with a jury, litigators cannot interact with their audience like presenters in normal presentations can, but the attention and focus strategies for normal presentations can still apply. They just have to be tailored for trial.
Use the following presentation mechanisms to put a little variety and spice into your presentations and examinations.
Tell an engaging story
Use a rhetorical question that makes them think more critically about the case
State a shocking or interesting fact the audience may not be familiar with
Use a quote from a prominent figure or even something from your case that illustrates your point and sets the mood
Use a prop or creative visual aid that you can hold or use to demonstrate what you’re talking about
Think about what you would want a presenter to do to keep you engaged with what they are presenting.
Try taping yourself as your present, then go back and watch how you work. Do you bore yourself? Do you talk in a monotone? Do you have good eye-contact? Are you talking too much without anything meaningful to supplement what you’re saying?
Television and movies these days are extremely engaging. Why do you think that is? One reason is that three seconds doesn’t usually go by before something exciting or unexpected happens in the scene. Directors and filmmakers are constantly developing strategies to hold the audience’s attention. It might be a good idea for you to take some notes on how they do it.
How do you keep your audience’s attention when performing a presentation? What strategies have worked for different types of audiences?
Working in the law firm setting prior to becoming a Trainer/Trial Tech gave me a better sense of direction and understanding that, to be successful in this field, you must know how to manage your case before you even step foot in the courtroom. Training attorneys, paralegals, consultants, videographers, and court reporters every day has given me a sense that not everyone knows how to properly organize and manage their documents.
Whether you are a solo practitioner or part of a large law firm, organization is key. The funny thing about it is, from the bottom, all the way to the top, the process is the exact same. It would be unusual for a firm to be drastically different and then in return be more effective during a presentation.
As an example, using trial presentation software, such as TrialDirector, will not only help manage your case documents but also present them as well. However, you need to know how to organize your case documents before you put them in the software for these tools to benefit you. Sure, document management systems offer a wide variety of tools to assist in any way possible, but without prior knowledge of how to use the tools appropriately, and set yourself up for success, there is no sense in even using them at all.
However, before we get to the tips, let’s get on the same page of what case management and organization is, or should be.
Why is it that case management gets overlooked when preparing for trial? All the focus seems to be on the presentation.
There is a big difference between case management and presentation. The presentation is the body in motion, creating rhythmic moves to entertain the audience – the jury. Case management is the brain controlling and moving the body parts that, in the end, tell a story.
Presentation, of course, is needed to tell a true and complete story. But add the ability to access and call up documents faster than ever, and you reach a level of engagement with your audience never before possible. This is why case management is so important. It allows you to use modern technology to its full potential, creating a sense of clean, uniform structure.
However, to get to that point, proper and efficient case organization and management must be done to ensure your case will look clean and presentable when you put it into the software. Relying on presentation alone is not an avenue of approach when it comes to being successful in trial. The smaller things in trial indeed matter too. Not only do you need to think big picture, but every little proactive approach to processing a legal matter are in the end crucial to winning your case.
So, how do you get from Point A, the law firm, to point B, the courtroom? Consider these six tips in preparation for your next case or even the case you’re working on now.
Indexing basically comes down to the who, what, where, when and how of your client, and/or third party documents. So, why should you even put in the time to index? Some law firms do not typically index their documents at all or until later during Discovery. Indexing is the process of gathering information or data that directly corresponds with documents being received by your client and or any third parties associated with your case.
Using programs such as Microsoft Excel can dramatically change your organization of your documents for the better and improve importing data into your document management and trial presentation software.
Recording document identifiers, dates received, whom it’s from, type of document, descriptions, production numbers…etc., will in fact significantly make things easier down the road. Below is an example of a typical spreadsheet you could easily create on your own.
2. Identifying Document ID’s
Properly identifying your documents is one of the biggest issues we run into when it comes to firms and companies managing their case. Whether it’s training a law firm how to properly build a case or consulting for a law firm, your client review documents must be properly identified.
The law firms that we train and consult for typically have long superfluous descriptions as their document identifiers. Utilize smaller naming conventions, such as bates numbers or exhibit numbers and the descriptions of that document can then be used in a separate field. By doing so, it makes importing and case managing your documents much easier, as opposed to relying on long, unnecessary identifiers.
There are shortcuts that can be taken in your presentation software, as well as programs to download to help re-identify a batch of documents, but why not start early and avoid re-doing time-consuming work?
3. Specific File Formats
Specific types of file formats are necessary and easier to use. Let’s be honest here. The entire industry is transitioning over to Portable Document Formats, also known as PDFs. Maintaining the original file formats is important and relevant, but as soon as you can, convert all your documents to PDF’s.
Utilizing native files in presentation software has its pitfalls. Incorporating a native file that is not a PDF will not allow the user to annotate or edit a document while presenting. Converting to PDFs creates a consistent file format that in the end is easier to work with.
Not only is it easier, but it is a multipage document as well, to where programs by default organize in alphanumeric order and automatically paginate for you.
If you are not concerned with resolution or separation of your documents, then convert them to PDFs.
4. Rotating and De-Duplication
Rotating and de-duplicating your documents should be standard practice and not overlooked.
Rotating your documents to a landscape or portrait layout can dramatically change how those documents are to be presented in court. However, this does depend greatly on the image itself. Make sure to look at the document or image and make sure it is properly rotated so that presenting it would not bring up any delays or issues in court.
As you review your documents, you always want to make sure you get rid of any duplicates, to ensure your presentation is flawless.
5. Centralizing Your Case
Centralization of your documents within your file explorer is organizational gold. When document review starts, it’s essential to centralize your documents in organized folders. The organized folders should all be placed into one folder that could, for example, be your main case folder (e.g. Jones vs. Smith).
Knowing where your documents are all located, whether it’s in a network folder, local C: Drive, cloud or external drive creates a sense of security and organization. This only increases your chances of maintaining your centralization and organization upon creating your case in your presentation software program.
6. Game Plan
Finally, a game plan is key to putting everything together at the end. When it comes to a game plan, as a consultant and or paralegal at a law firm, you want to go in with an organized and detailed approach to how you will be managing your files.
Prepare a checklist beforehand to make sure you have covered all you want to accomplish before going to court. Knowing the smaller things that are directly associated with managing your case will directly impact how well you perform in the hot seat.
Perhaps to you, these tips seem obvious, or quite easy, but in my experience, they’re not to the average person. It all begins with the firm’s general practice. Having a standard general practice will initiate the process by default for all team members to properly manage case documents.
If it’s not your firm’s general practice to properly case manage your documents in preparation for trial, then you are already setting your team behind. You need to convince yourself, and your firm that putting in the time and money beforehand, will then in return save you time and money getting ready for and going to trial.
So, with all your case organization and management skills being used before trial begins, why is this relevant or how does this correlate with the presentation? The steps you would use to prepare your documents for trial also directly apply or correlate within your software. It all comes together when creating, building, managing and presenting your case in court.
By taking the necessary steps before trial, you only increase your chances of being successful. Some of you might be thinking that this is unnecessary and takes away from other tasks at hand, but I guarantee it will make you better prepared in the end. As I instruct all my trainees, “Managing your case, is more important than presenting.” If you properly organize and prepare your exhibits, then the presentation portion is a piece of cake.
The smaller things in trial matter.
What are some tips you have found successful when using document management and trial presentation software?
In our experience, one of the main things many trial teams have trouble with is naming case files on the computer. The names they use for their files are too descriptive and long.
For example, many attorneys use either a short or long description, sometimes even full sentences, as a file name as seen below.
A descriptive name may make sense at first since it tells exactly what the file is, but when you’re working with hundreds or thousands of documents as is common today, those descriptive names get cluttered and make things difficult to find. See for yourself.
It’s like all the words are mashing together. There’s no standard here. Some files could get named incorrectly. You may forget what you named a certain file, and now it’s lost with everything else. And trying to find what you need here, especially when you’re trying to find it fast, would be needlessly time-consuming.
Case organization and trial preparation programs are great tools for streamlining document review and presentation workflows. However, if the files you’re putting into them are not identifiable in simple and manageable ways, using this technology only makes the process more frustrating.
Consider the following tips when receiving, scanning, or creating case files on your computer. They will help you make life easier for you as the case progresses.
1. Know what your documents are before you put them into your working case folder
This may seem like an obvious one, but many attorneys don’t really know what they are copying into a case folder until they go back to look at them later. For example, a lawyer or paralegal may receive several gigabytes worth of documents from the opposition and just dump all those directly into their computer’s hard drive without glancing at them first.
When you do this and start working on a case strategy, there’s not a frame of reference for where to begin.
It’s better to take some time to understand and review exactly what you’re working with at a general level. What file types are you working with? How are things currently organized and how can it be better?
One option is to create a bulk folder where you can dump all the case files. Then, go through and review each one, pulling the relevant documents you want into a different “working” case folder. Doing this separates the important items from the fluff, and now you know anything in the working case folder is at the very least semi-important to your strategy.
While you review and move the items as explained above, you can rename each file, which leads us to our next few suggestions.
2. Keep it simple
When it comes right down to it, you need to name your documents in a way that makes the most sense for you. However, think about how you can make it a little easier on your future self as you reference and search for the items you need.
You want to name your case items in a way that you can know what they are at a glance, and you also want to make it easy on yourself when you and the opposition are referencing each item during negotiations or trial.
A common file naming practice is using a descriptive phrase to help identify the item. We said before how long descriptions can be troublesome when working with several hundred files, but even short, two or three-word files names are troublesome, because all those words still get cluttered together.
Also, keep in mind that most any organization software will sort your files alphanumerically. So, when you try to organize your files according to descriptive phrases using technology, your files may end up out of order, or at least not sorted in the way you want.
When using software, there are usually other properties or fields where you can enter more descriptive identifiers. Save the file name for more orderly and systematic identification as described in the next tip.
3. Rename everything with a standard naming convention
Yes, you read that right. Rename everything, and use a standard, alphanumeric system.
Maybe this seems a little drastic at first, but if done correctly, it pays dividends down the road when you’re referencing these items with your own team and the other parties involved in the case.
We would suggest you simply number your case items using leading zeroes as shown below.
The reason you should use leading zeroes is that without them, your case items may get disorganized. Case organization tools for the most part use databases to reference your case items. Databases usually do not read whole numbers, which means that the database orders numbers by whatever digit comes first.
For example, if I have 10 exhibits in my case, and I named each exhibit by its corresponding number, it would appear in the database as follows.
Notice the “10” exhibit is out of order right below “1”.
The basic rule for using leading numbers is that you use the same number of digits as the total number of your documents. So, if your case only has 34 documents, use two digits in your numbering system (e.g “01”, “02”, “03”, etc.). You can then go up to a total of 99 documents before things get out of order.
If your case has 335 documents, use three digits in your numbering system (e.g. “001”, “002”, “003”, etc.). You can then go up to a total of 999 documents before things get out of order.
What if you have several images that are pages of the same document? While we do recommend you use PDFs so that you don’t have to worry so much about this, you can use another set of leading zeroes for each page of the document like this:
001-001 <– Page 1 of document 001
001-002 <– Page 2 of document 001
001-003 <– Page 3 of document 001
And so on.
There are some situations where you may want to modify this system. For example, you may be really attached to that descriptive phrase for each file. In that case, enter the exhibit number before the phrase like this “001-False Claims”.
Though your files may still get cluttered, at least you can reference them easily with other because of the numbers preceding the phrase.
What if the opposition is using the same naming convention as you? That means you’ll probably run into two different files being named the same thing. In that case, enter the initials of the party responsible for the documents before the numbers like this, “DX001”. That way, it’s easier to distinguish between two documents with the same file number.
There are countless ways to use the suggestions above to fit your own needs. Whatever naming convention you decide to use, apply it to everything. That way, when you need to find something months or years down the road, there’s no surprises and you can quickly find what you’re looking for.
If you decide not to go with your own numbering system, you might want to follow the next tip.
4. Use exhibit numbers or bates numbers
This tip is much more self-explanatory. Name all your items after an exhibit number or bates number.
The benefit of naming your documents this way is that it makes the transition between discovery, review, preparation, and trial so much easier. By using either of these numbers, you don’t have to rename any files as you transition to each phase.
You can do this even if you don’t think you will go to trial and it will still benefit you.
Now, let’s just stop for a moment. We understand you might have some other concerns about our tips so far. Let’s look at the next tip first.
5. Use the other properties of a document for more familiar, long-form identifiers
You might be saying to yourself, “Now all I have are numbers. None of these numbers really help me know what’s inside of a document without opening it.”
Yes, that’s true. The tips we’ve covered so far are for easier organization and reference. For identifying what is inside a file, or getting a summary of the file’s contents, we suggest you use other identification properties that case organization tools provide.
For example, in TrialDirector, you can use the Common Name field to enter a descriptive phrase to any file you want. So, if you and your team usually refer to an important letter in the case as “The Manifesto” you can enter that as the Common Name and quickly find it that way.
The beauty of doing it this way is that though your team may refer to a document that way, that’s not the way the court refers to it. But since you followed the tips above, finding and providing the right document with the right trial exhibit number is no problem.
Compound that with all the other documents you’re working with on your case, and you’ve saved quite a bit of time.
Implementing these suggestions makes it that much easier to organize, reference, and even import your documents into an evidence and case management system.
Properly naming your case files is essential as you work through the entire case process. Some attorneys often don’t put the right time and attention into naming their files, thinking that they’ll remember where the important files are, or that it’ll be easy to find them later.
That’s all fine, up until they realize that the case documents keep stacking up and suddenly they can’t remember what they named that really important image and now it’s mixed in with all the other documents, images, and videos you added to the case over time.
Often, by neglecting to put time into naming files properly, you’re making it so much harder to save time and reduce headaches down the road.
Learn more about TrialDirector and how it can help you by visiting our website.
How do you name your case files? What strategy works best for you?
Working with documents on the computer is usually much easier than working with physical paper, folders, notebooks and file cabinets. When you’re on the computer, you don’t have to get up out of your chair, maneuver around the stacks of paper cluttering your office, pull out the right file folder, and sift through everything until you finally find what you are looking for. All the while, precious minutes are floating by.
But as you’ve worked with digital documents, you’ve probably come across a lot of file types you are not familiar with or that you do not fully understand. Although we will not discuss every single file format option available to you, we will talk about some of the best options we’ve seen that make working through your case much more efficient and easy, especially when working with case management and trial presentation technology.
First, a word about a couple different file types you’ll come across:
Native File Types vs Image File Types
Native files are in formats that are understood by the original program a given file was created in. For example, an original document created in Word would have a “.doc” or “.docx” file extension. For WordPerfect, the native file extension is “.wpd”. These types of files can only be opened in the program they were created in unless another third-party program specifically creates functionality around opening those types of files.
Because of the information above, trying to always use native files like Word can result in a frustrating experience since the file cannot always be opened everywhere. Or, if it can, it can be slow, awkward, and can result in a frustrating experience.
That’s why it’s usually easier to work with image documents. Image documents are exactly what they sound like. They’re pictures. And pictures can usually be used most everywhere. While you do lose some ability to edit the text of a document, images are very responsive and can be easily managed and annotated.
Plus, you probably shouldn’t be changing the text of documents anyway…
For our purposes here, we will mostly talk about common image file formats.
PDF stands for “portable document format”. PDFs are pictures that look like printed paper but appear on your computer.
While other image file formats only allow one page or picture per file, one of the main benefits of PDFs comes from their ability to house multiple pages into one file. For this reason, they are much easier to store and organize when dealing with multi-page documents, and they can be annotated just as easily as any other image file types.
In some cases, you may want to use native files if you want to find the metadata of your documents, like the author and the date a document was created, to help you build the story of your case. Even in these cases, after you’re done pulling the information you need, it is still beneficial to convert native files to PDF when preparing your case for trial with presentation software.
However, PDF isn’t the only image file format you can use. There may be cases where the PDF option isn’t available, or it’s simply easier to use another format. In that case, we suggest you use PNGs.
The PNG file format provides a single image of a single picture or page of a document. While some programs may allow you to organize several pictures into a multipage document, PNG files do not provide such organization on their own like a PDF does.
PNG stands for “portable network graphics”. This file format was designed to make transferring high-quality images across the internet easier. As such, PNGs have become very popular.
If you’re not going to use a PDF, the PNG file format is great for storing high-quality photographs of evidence, especially if you plan on annotating those photographs and saving multiple versions of the photo.
With other file types like JPEG, TIFF, and GIF, you do not get as much quality out of your image, and at a relatively low file size, as you would with the PNG. Also, the quality of the image can degrade with each newly saved version using these other formats over PNG.
All in all, using a PNG is often a better option.
We suggest only using one of these other image file formats if you have a specific reason for doing so. For example, you may want to use the GIF format for an animation, since GIFs inherently support animated images, whereas with PNG you would have to muddle with image settings to do so.
We have an entire white paper on the MPEG-4 video format. If you want more detailed information, we suggest you download the whitepaper. But, in general, MPEG-4 is the best file format option when working with video.
Using MPEG-4 for your video and audio files provides a better overall experience for you and everyone else you work with.
It retains a high-quality display and sound which is important for reviewing evidence and especially presenting the video to an audience.
It works with most every video-supported software today, making it much easier to transfer the files to clients or other parties in a case. It is also compatible with tablets and other mobile devices. With MPEG-4 you don’t have to worry about running it through a program to change it to another supported file type. It’ll just work.
It also produces a smaller file size, which saves on the cost of transfer as well as the cost of storage. When working with the number of hours that can add up in a single case, that saving is significant.
We’ve gone through some of the most convenient file formats, but you may be asking yourself how you can switch from one file format to the other. Let’s talk about it.
How Do I Change from One File Format to Another?
Changing a file format will be different for any type of file you are working with.
If you’re working with a native file, you can simply open the program the document was created in, and save it as one of the different file types mentioned above. For example, you can open your document in Word, click the File tab, click Save as, choose where you want the new file to go, then select the dropdown that shows all the different file types.
If you’re working with an image, you can use an image editor program to save the image as a different file type using most of the same steps as above. For example, if you want to change a JPEG image to a PNG, you can open the JPEG in Microsoft Paint (it comes free with Windows). Click the File tab, click Save As, and choose the file format you want.
When it comes to video and audio files, changing the file types isn’t quite so simple. It is usually easier to create the audio or video file in MPEG-4, to begin with. But if you didn’t do that, you’ll need to convert the file to MPEG-4. There is a litany of software options, many of which are free, that you can use to convert to MPEG-4. We suggest you search the internet for such options, talk to a trusted tech-friend, and choose the best option for yourself. Once you choose the option you want, converting your file to MPEG-4 should be quite easy.
Overall, when working through the documents of a case, there are only a few file formats you should worry about that will provide all the essential options you need:
If you go outside these file formats, you should have specific reasons for doing so, like collecting metadata from native file formats or wanting to easily show an animation with a GIF.
What file formats do you use when reviewing documents for a case and why?
Case management and presentation technology like TrialDirector offer a way to review and manage case documents more efficiently on a computer. But, to take advantage of this efficiency, your documents must be in the computer. You need to go digital.
There are several other benefits to going digital besides faster document review.
You can drastically reduce clutter. All the piles of documents around your desk could be gone, and you could walk in and out of your office without having to worry about toppling the paper city you’ve constructed over time.
With less clutter comes better organization. Using a computer makes it much easier to find documents and less likely you’ll lose them. Not much is worse than finding out a document was misfiled somewhere in the canyons of filing cabinets. When your documents are on a computer, they’re much easier to find if someone puts them in the wrong location.
Also, when you use technology to manage your case documents, there are countless tools available to make managing those documents much easier. You can quickly review, annotate, and eventually present much more professional-looking items in much less time.
But how do you go digital, exactly? What does it take, and what do you need to do?
In very general terms, you pretty much have two options for getting your documents into the computer:
Ask for digital documents from the start of a case
Scan each document manually
Let’s dig into both options.
Doing it from the Start
This option is by far the easiest and most cost-effective since you wouldn’t even have to waste time dealing with physical documents at all.
Usually, when a case starts, you are in control of how you receive documents from clients and the opposition. Instead of paper, simply request the documents be delivered on a disc or portable hard drive.
Even if the organizations delivering the documents only have physical copies, requesting digital copies puts the burden on them to scan them into a computer.
You might want to specify the file formats you prefer. You can request “native” file formats, if available, or “image” formats.
Native file formats are files that can be opened and edited directly in whatever program they were created with, like Word (.doc) or WordPerfect (.wpd). While it might not always be feasible for people to deliver native file formats to you, these formats are beneficial because they contain “metadata” by default.
Metadata basically provides information about the file in question. For example, it can give you the author of the document and the day it was created, making it easier for you to set up a chronology of where the document fits in each case’s story.
Image file formats are just pictures of documents. These may be much easier to come by than native files. The most common image types are JPG, PNG, and PDF. Note, while one JPG or PNG file is just one picture of one page of a document, PDFs can contain many pages of a document in one PDF file, making it much easier to store and keep track of multi-page letters or other court documents common in any case.
TrialDirector does provide options to organize image files like JPGs and PNGs into multipage documents, but having it done for you in a PDF is much more effective.
But, what’s that you say? Your case already started? You’re doing the research yourself, and all you have to work with are books and paper? There must be a transition somewhere. Here’s what you can do:
From Paper to Digital
To get all the information contained on all that paper into a computer, you need a scanner. There are all kinds, and the one you want depends completely on how much you’re willing to pay and how fast you want to go. You can get a cheap scanner that lets you do one document at a time, or you can get a scanner that lets you feed multiple pages into it at once and it will cycle through each page for you. Considering how many documents you’re probably working with; the latter may be the best option.
You might want to check the printer you’re currently using in your office. Chances are, it has the scanning features you need.
“But, scanning each of these documents, it sounds like a lot of work, and I don’t have the time.”
We hear you. We understand. Going paperless is a big undertaking, but in our opinion, it’s absolutely worth it. The initial time investment is minuscule compared to the amount of time you save down the road, especially if you commit to working with all your cases digitally.
But if you really can’t spare the time, you might consider hiring some temporary help to get you started.
Again, the initial investment will be worth it long term.
Also, as you scan your pages, you’ll want to think about the quality settings of each scanned image, especially resolution settings.
Every computer screen has a certain resolution and resolution is determined by pixels. Pixels are all the little boxes that make up the picture on the screen. So, the higher a resolution, or the more pixels, the clearer the picture will be.
However, some people mistakenly think setting the resolution of a scanned image to its absolute maximum is the way to go since they assume they’ll get the best, clearest image, especially if they want to expand that image to a larger screen, like in trial presentation on a projector. It’s not necessarily true, and there are other things you need to consider as well.
For one thing, images don’t need the highest resolution to be clear, especially on large screens. They only need what is sufficient, and a picture’s resolution can be pretty low to be sufficient even by today’s standards.
The reason you want to think about reducing resolution is the space each scanned image takes up on a computer. Each file you scan takes up space. The higher the resolution, the more amount of space.
Consider too, if the file is so big, it might not show up very fast when you’re trying to present it at trial, making long pauses and sometimes uncertainty or awkward situations. You don’t want that in front of a jury.
Another space consideration is if you also want to set a document up for Optical Character Recognition (OCR). When you OCR a document, you make the text searchable and selectable, making it easier to find what you’re looking for as you review documents. But OCR also makes the file size for the document bigger. Ask yourself if you really need this document to be searchable or if it is just a filler in the pile. If you don’t need the search and selection features, you may want to save the space.
So, there’s a quick overview of what it would take to go digital. But we understand there may be a nagging feeling still in the back of your mind…
Is It Worth It?
In short, yes. But let us flip a question back to you. Is the initial time investment worth the future peace of mind of having a clean office? Is it worth the monumental amount of time you save by not having to dig through physical paper to find what you need? Is it worth feeling confident as you want into trial with a simplified setup and more effective strategy?
We say it is, and we want those things for you. Don’t print another piece of paper again. Go paperless!
Once you go paperless, consider using TrialDirector, the leading software in trial technology, for your case management and trial presentation needs. Check out our website to learn more and connect with us on social media!
What file formats do you prefer when working with case items on the computer and why?
What scanners have you used that are especially useful?