Category Archives: TrialDirector

The Top Three File Formats to Use with Case Management and Trial Presentation Software

Trial Director 360

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.

Native file formats vs image file formats.

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

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.

Multi-page vs Single-page
A multi-page document vs a single-page document.

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.

PNG

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.

MPEG 4

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.

Word File Format Options
File format options in Word.

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.

Conclusion

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:

  • PDF
  • PNG
  • MPEG-4

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?

Let us know on any of our social media accounts! You can connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

How You Can Go Digital for Easier Case and Document Management

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.

Stacks of documents on lawyer's desk.
Scanning your documents can get rid of the mess in your office.

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:

  1. Ask for digital documents from the start of a case
  2. 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 Files

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 Files

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.

Lawyer scanning case documents.
Scan your documents for better case organization.

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?

Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn!

Three Concerns Keeping You from Embracing Electronic Document Management Software

Look around your office. What do you see? Perhaps there are towers of stacked paper, or piles of boxes, each gushing with case documents, or maybe walls of shelves holding large notebooks with documents stuffed inside.

Are these things obstructing your way around the office? Do you have to climb over or shimmy around piles of notebooks and paper just to get to your desk?

If you recognize any of the descriptions above, and you think that’s a problem, keep reading.

We want to help you along the first steps of getting your law office organized and saving time with technology.

There are options available today that let you fit all those documents into a device, like a USB flash drive, that only takes up a few inches on your desk. So, that mess you’re looking at right now? Gone.

Not only that, but you can use that device and other tools to organize all those thousands of documents and search through them in seconds rather than minutes or hours.

The benefits of such tools are priceless, yet many law firms and organizations still don’t use them. Why? We ask ourselves this question a lot, and we’d like to take this opportunity to address some of your possible concerns we found to be the most common.

Let’s start with an easy one.

1. Time – I Don’t Have It

Ah, yes. Time. As an attorney, every single minute of your life is accounted for, and there’s none to spare to learn about new tech. Every minute you spend trying to figure out how to use this stuff is a minute you haven’t spent on your case. You may think it’s better to play it safe and do things the “tried and true” way. Just get it done the way you know how right?

Respectfully, we think that’s wrong.

You do have time. In fact, you may be hemorrhaging time, your most valuable resource, by holding onto old methods of doing things. As we already said before, working with documents on a computer turns the hours you would spend working with paper into minutes and seconds.

Here’s an example of how: Let’s take a simple task, such as finding a document you want to present at trial.

Currently, you get up from your desk, go to wherever you store your case documents, find the right box, shelf, or drawer, open the box, and proceed to finger through all the folder and files in the box. Once you find the right folder and eventually the right file, you pull it out and take it back to your desk.

Or you might have a paralegal or assistant do all of that for you. In any case, that simple process absorbed valuable time. Now, compound the time for all the other hundreds to thousands of documents circulating in each case.

It adds up. You’re spending hours, days, and weeks just on one simple task.

Suppose you could do all of it with technology without even leaving your chair, right from a computer? You can! In fact, some programs will find documents for you. All you do is enter a few search terms and it filters through everything for you in milliseconds.

Then, once you have the document, you can review and even annotate it right then and there. No need to print. No need to make copies. It’s all done for you.

And we didn’t even talk about the significant loss of time when something is misplaced or misfiled. You know that’s bad.

With computers and programs these days, if something is misplaced on the file system, there are countless fast and efficient ways to help you find lost items much more quickly than sifting through the mountains of paper yourself.

Sure, it may take an initial investment of time to learn how to use the technology and implement it, but that is nothing compared to the amount of time and resources you save later.

Receiving the documents, printing the documents, transporting the documents – all the monetary, time, and mental costs of handling physical documents are dramatically reduced by going digital.

You just need to get over that first hill, and then you coast with a nice refreshing breeze as you go.

Technology gets you away from wasting time on mundane tasks and lets you get back to what matters – strategizing and winning your case.

But your time, or the lack thereof, isn’t even the real issue in our opinion.

2. Fear of Change – The Real Issue

Everyone can get set in a routine. They set up a comfort zone, where everything they do is part of the norm, and they resist anything outside of that zone or even slightly unfamiliar. Breaking away from a routine is usually difficult.

Herein lies the real problem. You may be afraid to change. You are so used to doing things the way you currently do them you perceive your current process for preparing for and presenting at trial is faster when it demonstrably is holding you back.

William Pollard, a physicist, said, “Learning and innovation go hand in hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

Whether it was in law school or when you first started out as a professional, you spent a substantial amount of time, even sleepless nights, teaching yourself to do things the way you currently do them. Now you’re comfortable with those methods. In fact, you’re very good at what you do.

But times change. Things that worked well in the past don’t work as well anymore. With increasing amounts of case data and less time to prepare, it’s time to adapt to the progressing world around you or you risk getting bogged down in inefficiencies. It happens in every industry, and it is happening in the legal industry.

We strongly suggest you put in the time needed and get up to speed with the current technology today and provide your clients with the state of the art representation they deserve.

Which leads us to the final concern we want to bring up.

3. Cost of Entry – The Hidden Cost of Denial

You may feel it’s too expensive to get up to speed.

While there are very expensive systems out there with impressive functions and features, there are just as many or more options that are much less expensive or even free. You can easily use the internet to find options to help you simplify and organize your case.

Also, think about the hidden costs of refusing technology. We’re not just talking about time and money. Your ability to rationalize and think clearly is severely influenced by your surroundings. Minds function in parallel with their environment, even down to how you are dressed.

How are the messy piles of documents in your office affecting you? Gaining some clarity and peace of mind is worth at least entertaining the idea of implementing technological advances in your practice. You’ll be able to make better strategies and be more prepared to confront unexpected challenges.

Using technology to become more efficient not only eases your mental strain and saves time and money for you, but it also saves the same for your clients. Any tool that improves the firm improves the client’s experience, providing the quality help they need faster.

Plus, the longer you wait to implement these tools, the more expensive it will be later on, whether or not you ever implement them. The younger generation of lawyers and paralegals are learning these technologies in school. In many cases, they grew up with this stuff. It’s basically part of their DNA.

Invest now to save later. Stay up to date with the rising generation.

You can start out small if you have to, one improvement at a time.

Get Started Now – Let Us Help

If any of the concerns we discussed above apply to you, you could greatly benefit from an application like TrialDirector. We can help you every step of the way.

TrialDirector is cutting edge trial preparation and presentation software.

With TrialDirector, you can review exhibits. It uses a couple document browsing tools to let you find exactly what you’re looking for. Then you can open the document in a larger viewer, browse through the document if it has multiple pages, and even draw markups to focus the jury’s attention in preparation for trial. You can review video and deposition transcripts as well.

If you have a hard time browsing through all the documents you are preparing for trial, you can organize individual items in your case into different folders called workbooks. There are different types of workbooks that make other tasks, like presenting at trial, much easier.

Finally, you can take the case you worked on in TrialDirector with you to trial for presentation. You can present a set of exhibits in order, or you can call up exhibits on-the-fly as the trial develops. There are several things you can do to capture the jury’s attention too. You can make callouts, mark annotations, and show exhibits next to each other to compare and contrast. You can even link an exhibit to a deposition video and have it appear seamlessly at the right moment while the video plays.

Look at what we have to offer at TrialDirector.com.

We also offer in-depth training services through TrialDirector University to help jump-start your experience with taking your cases to the next level with technology. Learn more at TrialDirectorUniversity.com.

There are countless hours you can save using technology throughout the life of any case. Make the decision and take steps to use it now!