Article Title: "Court
Technology Making A Persuasive Case "
Section: Internet &
The slow-moving, tradition-bound judicial system is gradually
gathering technological steam.
It's making a number of
changes to the courtroom status quo, including electronic filings of
legal motions, witness videoconferencing and digital displays of
In most cases, the technology helps
smooth the legal process, experts say. But there is a downside:
Fancy equipment and software can sometimes distract people from the
fundamentals of a case.
"Technology has changed the way
virtually all cases are heard," said Brad Gross, a Fort Lauderdale,
Fla., intellectual property lawyer.
There are plenty of
examples of good technology in courtrooms, he says. One is real-time
transcripts that allow court reporters to instantaneously transmit
what they're writing to attorneys' laptops. Another is headsets that
let jurors hear an English interpreter when a witness speaks a
language they don't know.
But while tech can make a
courtroom more efficient, it can shift the focus away from a
lawyer's message. Suppose an attorney transmits a letter in evidence
to a screen in front of jurors. All eyes are on the screen, not the
"You want them looking at you," Gross said.
"You're on the stage."
And technology can't deliver the same
psychological impact as real-life evidence.
Take a handgun
in a criminal trial, says Gross, a former prosecutor. Passing it
around to a jury would be much more powerful than displaying it on a
"Ultimately, technology doesn't beat a sound
argument," Gross said. "The use of technology to present evidence
has improved, but it's also been overused by lawyers who get caught
up in the gadgetry of it all."
Brooks Hilliard, a Phoenix
computer consultant, knows just how much technology is changing the
An expert witness in more than 100
computer-related cases across the country, Hilliard now spends time
excavating hard drives rather than just wading through boxes of
During the pretrial "discovery" portion of a
case, attorneys can request - and get - far more documents,
including e-mails, than they could in the past.
"electronic discovery," judges are less likely to deny an attorney's
request for more information based on how difficult and
time-consuming it is to obtain, he says.
"Because of that,
it's possible to produce an awful lot more documentation," Hilliard
That's both good and bad. It can slow the process and
cost money or make important evidence harder to find. But it can
also result in the discovery of "smoking guns," he said.
any case, there's no escaping the document deluge. "Some of the
documents are relevant," Hilliard said. "I don't see any way around
Technology is also changing a behind-the-scenes aspect
of trial preparation: mock juries. They can give lawyers insight
into how actual juries might respond to a case.
In the old
days, mock juries were too expensive for many lawyers to afford. But
in 2000, Chris Bagby set out to change that.
injury lawyer in Arlington, Texas, started eJury.com, which
conducts two to three mock juries weekly.
His lawyer clients
pay an average of $1,500 to get the take on their cases from a
cyberspace pool of over 50,000 jurors nationwide.
make $5 or $10 per trial, spending an average of 45 minutes on each
one. "It helps attorneys prepare for trial," said Bagby. "It's
basically a dress rehearsal."
Personal injury attorneys can
get valuable information from a mock jury: how much money a
flesh-and-blood version might award.
And since its pool is
online, eJury can use more people than real-life
"That's what makes this empirically sound and
also more attractive," Bagby said.
The legal profession
increasingly trains attorneys to use technology to their advantage.
Frank Rothschild is a courtroom technology textbook author
and a part-time judge in Kauai, Hawaii. He works with the National
Institute for Trial Advocacy, a nonprofit group in South Bend, Ind.,
that teaches attorneys how to do trials.
Rothschild is a
believer in courtroom technology - but with a disclaimer.
"We teach people: 'No voodoo technology,' " Rothschild said.
"We're not doing flashy, Terminator-morphing stuff."
don't want to feel they're being tricked, Rothschild says.
"The lawyer should still be the show and must use oral
persuasion to inform the jury of the facts, and to interpret what
Although there aren't studies on the subject,
Rothschild has seen big benefits from using technology. Working with
federal judges in wired courtrooms, he found that 20% to 40% of
courtroom time can be saved via technology.
That's the main
reason for employing technology in courtrooms: saving time. "The
general public would like to hear 'justice,' but it's time,"
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