Ten Qualities of Top Trial Presentation Professionals

Dr. Conrad Murray, Michael Jackson Trial (see video below)

Back in the day, when I was the firm-wide in-house TrialConsultant for Brobeck, trial presentation software and technology wereactually quite similar to what we use today – at least with respect to the waythe exhibits are organized and presented in trial. Sure, computers and softwarehave come a long way, but the biggest difference is the fact that more lawyersare using it. So, what are a few of the key qualities that seem to be a commonthread among the nation’s leaders in trial presentation? I think you’ll findthat many of these are also the traits shared by successful litigators.

1.      TrialExperience
There is a reason this profession is often referred to as the “hot-seat.” There is nowhere to turn, or nobody else toblame when (not if) something goeswrong, and only experience can help develop the knowledge of how toimmediately correct most any issue, and in such a manner than nobody else evenrealizes there was a problem.

2.      Confidence
This comes naturally with actual trial experience, as noted in #1 above. Ifthere is a lack of experience, there will also be a lack of confidence.Typically, a lack of confidence is easy to spot, and often, the reasons forthis shortcoming become apparent in trial. A truly confident trial presentationprofessional will appear cool and calm, even when they’re under a great deal ofpressure.

3.      Obsessiveness
In addition to trial experience, there is nothing like preparation to bringpeace of mind to the trial team. During trial prep and the trial itself, thereare no adequate excuses for not getting something ready in time. If this meansworking 16+ hour days, and not going to sleep until everything is ready for thenext day, then so be it.

4.      Makes itLook Easy
Maybe you’ve seen at attorney working with a trial professional, and notedhow it appeared as if every step was rehearsed – almost as if they both knewexactly what to do, and when. On the other hand, perhaps you’ve witnessed (orbeen part of) of a trial presentation meltdown, where exhibits weren’t presentedin a timely manner, and frustration was apparent on the part of the attorneyand trial presenter – not to mention the Judge and jury. The best trialpresentation professionals are able to anticipate where the next callout orhighlight should be, and will just make it happen.

5.      Above-averageWork Ethic
One thing I have learned in my years working with some truly greatattorneys is that you must be willing to work harder than opposing counsel.While hard work won’t turn a bad case into a good one and win, laziness can makeyou lose. Great attorneys are relentless. So are their trial teams. GerrySchwartzbach once told me quite simply, “We will out-work them.” David Boiesonce asked his weary trial team, “Do you want to sleep, or do you want to win?”

6.      DataManagement Expert
One problem with those who find that trial presentation software isactually pretty easy to learn (at least the basics), is that it doesn’t makeyou a file management expert. Unless you are capable of organizing tens ofthousands of pages, you shouldn’t attempt to do so. One of the most commoncauses for problems in trial presentation is poor data management.

7.      Computerand Software Expert
While nobody can know everything, an experienced trial presentationprofessional will be familiar with most programs used by law firms, including litigationsupport applications. They will also be able to assist with computer problems,spreadsheets, and graphics. They will certainly be intimately familiar withtheir trial presentation software, and will know how to make the most of allfeatures. Paralegal skills and experience can also be a plus.

8.      Resources
One life-lesson I learned many years ago was that the smartest people arenot necessarily those who have all of the answers – but rather, those who knowwhere to find the answers. Whether that means knowing where and how to searchthe Internet, or having a list of fellow professionals handy, there shouldrarely be a situation that cannot be resolved. It can also mean finding a wayto get 3 copies of 20 exhibits scanned and printed at 2:00 AM.

9.      IT Expert
One quality that is often overlooked is the ability to simply “make thingswork.” This can mean installing and wiring an entire courtroom, setting up theremote war room, or getting everyone connected to the network. When working outof town in a remote war room, chances are you didn’t bring along your ITdepartment with you. There is far more to this business than putting exhibits upon a screen.

10.   Top Firms and Cases
Never hesitate to check the background of your provider. If you’ve neverheard of them, and/or if they don’t have an impressive list of clients and cases,chance are they don’t have the experience necessary to support your trial. Unless you’re willing to provide trainingwheels, don’t waste your time with someone who is just getting into thisbusiness.

Here’s an example of a total FAIL in the recent MichaelJackson trial of Dr. Conrad Murray, as described in #4 above, courtesy of ChrisBallard, of Video and the Law.

A Day in Trial

There is an increasing interest in using trial presentationsoftware to help persuade jurors in litigation of all types. Once considered the domain of themega-firms with their billion-dollar clients, trial presentation technology hasnow trickled down to the point that it can be used in most any matter. Thedecision is no longer whether or not to use it, but how to get the most out ofit, while staying within the budget. There are a few common options.

You may want to have an attorney handle it. At first glance,this appears to be a perfect match. Another attorney billing on the case, andthey are already familiar with the exhibits and the case. From a client’sperspective, however, the billing rate is likely quite a bit higher than thatof a trial technician, but even more importantly, it takes a great deal of timeto manage the database, prepare exhibits and deposition clips, and present theevidence. If the assigned attorney has little else to do, it could work. Ifthere are other “normal” trial responsibilities, adding a menu of tasks thatrequire constant attention and maintenance may not be a good fit.

Another way to staff your trial presentation is to pull aparalegal and have them do it. However, as in the example above, chances areyou’ve already assigned a full day’s workload on your paralegals, and unlessyou’re able to relieve them of all of their other chores during trial, burnoutmay be on the near horizon. It is notrealistic to expect anyone to work two full-time jobs, and that is about whatit amounts to.

Other considerations are familiarity with the software,protocols, and the case itself. Trial presentation software is not unlike manyother specialized programs that unless you use them regularly, you are notreally comfortable or familiar with the features. In trial, you don’t have time to search the Help Menu for solutions,or call for support when you have a problem. It’s all on you, and if youcannot make it work in a matter of seconds, you may find yourself using the hardcopy exhibits.

Whether in-house oroutsourced, a full-time trial presentation technician or consultant isgenerally going to be the best option available. Someone whose solefunction is to ensure that every exhibit is accessible, and presented to thejury as needed. The more experience they have in this role, the better thingswill flow, and the trial presentation database should be their primaryfunction. All other tasks should take secondary roles, as it often requires14-16 hours per day or more during trial to keep everything rolling smoothly. Oncecounsel is finished preparing for the next day’s witnesses and retires for theevening, the trial tech goes to work, getting all exhibits and testimony readyto go, backing up the database, and adding new documents. They will also befamiliar with the courtroom presentation equipment, and how to deal with theCourt staff.

Although it may seemcounter-intuitive to bring in someone who isn’t already familiar with yourcase, this can actually be one of the greatest assets of a consultant. Itis true that they don’t know the case, or how you view things. Neither willyour jurors, and if you have someone willing to share an objective “outsider’s”perspective, that’s the closest you can get to the mind of your jurors. Don’texpect (or ask) them to see it your way, and don’t attempt to convince them. Youdon’t need another pat on the back or a “yes-man.” Just ask for their feedback,and take advantage of any insight they have to offer.

Ten Questions to Ask Your “Hot Seat” Provider

First, I’ll define the term “Hot Seat.” In litigation, thisis used to describe the role of the trial presentation technician or consultant– the one responsible for managing and presenting the evidence to Judge andJury. Any delay in presenting the requested exhibit can seem like an eternity. One miscue on their part, such as bringingup the wrong exhibit, can immediately result in a mistrial – hence the term, “hotseat.”

1.      How much will it cost?
Make sure to get the “real numbers” in any estimates you receive, and see ifthere are hidden extras, such as overtime, travel, equipment, weekend orholiday charges, project management fees, etc.

2.      How much do you personally make?
Cost does not always equal value, and hourly rates do not necessarily indicatethe level of competency of the individual actually providing the services. Thismay be a very personal question, but if the hourly rate is $250, and yourhot-seat tech is making $25 of that, there’s a problem.

3.      How many actual court trials have you personallyhandled the “hot seat” in?
This should be a realistic number, and is not the same question as, “How manycases have you worked on in any capacity?”

4.      Have you ever been involved in a trial similarto this?
Your “hot seat” person will be comfortable, and thus more effective, infamiliar surroundings. Although it would be unrealistic to expect experiencewith the exact case type, things like the size and value of the matter, venuetype, data formats, and general type of litigation are all helpful qualities.

5.      What extra value do you have to offer the trialteam?
In some cases, the answer may be zero, and that is fine. In others, similarcase experience, case feedback, jury monitoring, or other extras may help makethe decision whether or not to hire.

6.      May I see your bio?
Don’t expect to see a résumé, as you’re not hiring an employee. However, youhave every right to request a bio of the person(s) who will be assigned to yourcase. Make sure you’re getting what you pay for.

7.      How long have you been doing this type of work?
A few years can be a reasonable amount of time to master most of this. Unless you’re knowingly hiring a trainee(can you spell m-a-l-p-r-a-c-t-i-c-e?), make sure they’re not learning on yourdime, and at the expense of your case.

8.      Can you assist with Opening Statement andClosing Arguments?
Depending on the case, it can often be helpful to have another set of eyes lookingat things, and offering ideas on how to tell the story visually. This may ormay not be something you need or are willing to pay for in your case.

9.      Are you capable of producing on-site graphics?
Any hot-seat technician should be able to make at least minor changes on thefly as needed. There’s simply not always time to engage the “graphics team,” regardlessof wherever they may be located.

10.  What sets you apart from your competitors?
This can apply both to the company, and the individual(s) assigned. However, hiringa well-known company does not necessarily mean that the person they will assignis the best for you. Make sure it’s a good fit from top to bottom.

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