A few months ago, one of my colleagues approached me with an offer I couldn't refuse. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois wanted to hold a CLE on courtroom technology. They wanted our law school, the Southern Illinois University School of Law, to help sponsor and organize the CLE, and they wanted us to focus not only on the types of available courtroom technology, but also on the advocacy and evidentiary aspects of using it at trial. Because I teach advocacy and evidence, I was on the hook to help plan and present the CLE. And because I met and became friends with Nick Caputo of the Caputo Law Firm at the Stetson Educating Advocates Conference a couple of years ago, I knew just who to call to ensure the CLE would be successful. Nick is a Chicago attorney and an adjunct professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law, where he coaches trial teams and also teaches the Mike Rogers Litigation Technology course.
To make a long story short, Nick agreed to help with the CLE, on the condition that he could bring with him a crew of trusted associates and fellow Chicago-Kent adjunct trial advocacy professors: Nikitas Fudokos, of counsel to the Caputo Law Firm; and Mike Ko, an attorney and trial consultant for Groundwork Trial Consulting in Chicago. They had to take a geography test, sign a "civilization waiver," and get special permits to travel south of I-70—something few Chicagoans have ever done—but we were able to make all the necessary arrangements, and they showed up at the appointed day and time.
The CLE took place last Friday, June 24, 2011. We conducted a morning session in the Benton courtroom, then drove two hours to conduct an afternoon session at the East St. Louis courtroom. Between the two locations, approximately 80 attorneys attended the CLE. Both courtrooms are well-equipped with the latest courtroom technology and have experienced and helpful professional and IT staff.
In addition to Nick, Nikitas and Mike, other presenters included Judge Michael J. Reagan of the Southern District, who spoke on ethics and professional responsibility issues pertaining to demonstrative evidence and electronic evidence; Judge J. Patrick Murphy, who presided over the Benton session and made introductory remarks; Thomas Galbraith, the court's IT officer, who spoke about the court's technical capabilities and the importance of advance coordination; K. Jayne Reynolds, a court deputy in the Benton courthouse, who demonstrated the court's video conferencing system; and yours truly, with a brief presentation on authentication and admissibility of electronically stored evidence. Copies of some of our handouts are available at the end of this blog entry.
The CLE exceeded our expectations. Nick and his crew gave a series of amazing demonstrations of courtroom technology in action. They used Powerpoint to demonstrate opening statements and closing arguments, and Sanction to demonstrate direct and cross examination. Their demonstrations were concise and powerful, and they followed them up by showing how the presentations were put together. Nick introduced various open-source and commercial software tools, including Powerpoint, Google Earth, Google Scribble, Windows Movie Maker, and Sanction, and he discussed the learning curve and preparation requirements for using them. Judge Reagan's presentation on ethics was informative and entertaining. In the spirit of our technology-based CLE, Judge Reagan delivered his remarks to the Benton courthouse over the video-conferencing system from his chambers in East St. Louis—a two-hour drive away.
What did I take away from the CLE?
- Courtroom Technology is Persuasive and Powerful. Used properly, courtroom technology can multiply an advocate's persuasive abilities and help teach the jury in a way far superior to the spoken word and static displays mounted on poster board. Mike Ko demonstrated an opening statement in a motorcycle accident case using Powerpoint. To be sure, he gave an excellent opening statement on its own merits; it would have been good even without Powerpoint. But the audience was mesmerized by the slides, and they significantly amplified the persuasive impact of his words. Later in the course, Nick Caputo impeached a witness using Sanction. The video recording of the witness's statement was reinforced by a window in which the text scrolled in real time, synchronized with the video statement. No wiggle room for the witness with an impeachment like that.
- Proper Use of Technology is the New "Standard of Care" for Attorneys. The advocacy advantage increasingly will go to attorneys who know how to use this technology persuasively. "It's too hard," or "I don't have time," or "It's too expensive," are excuses that will lose cases—and the day of reckoning may not be that far off.
- Jurors Expect Visual Stimuli. In the words of K. Jayne Reynolds, "I know these people. I bring them donuts, and I listen to what they have to say. Believe me, they're looking for this stuff. They ask about it."
- Technology Levels the Playing Field. This is a point that Nick effectively made several times. A tech-savvy small firm can compete with larger firms and win cases that might not have been possible without the technology. Most of the technology Nick and his crew demonstrated already resides on a reasonably well-equipped laptop. Other equipment, such as projectors and screens, can be rented on an ad-hoc basis. Attorneys who fear technology or don't have the time to learn it can hire litigation consultants to help them. The point is that technology can be integrated on just about any budget.
- I'm Not Teaching to Standard. I have a lot to learn about integrating available courtroom technology into my advocacy teaching. We don't offer a litigation technology course, but I plan to change that in the near future. What I've done so far is a pale shadow of what could be done; essentially, I've used Powerpoint and the Elmo as electronic versions of poster boards and easels. I've offered up a lot of excuses, most of them of the variety listed earlier. I'm not sure how well litigation technology would fit into a basic trial advocacy course; it seems hard enough to teach people to lead on cross but not direct; but I do think it ought to be offered as an advanced course. Most of the students have everything they need already loaded on their laptop computers.
- If You Don't Know How to Do Something, Call in the Experts. This CLE would have been a pale shadow of itself without the expertise of Nick, Nikitas, and Mike. Simply put, they demonstrated the best practices in using technology to teach and persuade. They kept an audience of seasoned attorneys and judges enthralled, and their performance was in itself the best way to persuade skeptics of the value of using technology. This same principle applies, I believe, to attorneys who want to use technology but don't know how to do it. Call an expert to help. It will be worth the effort.
6-21-11 Courtroom Tech Checklist
6-21-11 Choosing a Vendor