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Technology in the Courtroom: An Evolving Landscape

Anjelica Cappellino, J.D.

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— Updated on June 23, 2020

Technology in the Courtroom: An Evolving Landscape

Legal Technology

The practice of law has always been seeped in time-honored tradition and old-fashioned decorum. To many, the courtroom is a place that evokes images often seen in film and television depictions of legal dramas – classic architecture, historic documents on display, and statues and portraits memorializing legal scholars of the past. The formal, ceremonious nature of the law has never been synonymous with advanced technology and electronics. Even in as late as 2010, only 20 percent of attorneys surveyed by the American Bar Association reported using a laptop for courtroom presentations. However, in recent years, attorneys both in and out of the courtroom have been slowly but surely adapting to the digital age and utilizing certain computer technologies to assist in their case. After all, in only the past five years, there has been a 484% increase in global patent filings for new legal services technology.

In fact, the American Bar Association has developed a buyer’s guide directory that provides listings on the latest and most popular products and services, which includes everything from accounting tools, legal templates, email encryption, security services, and database storage systems. The American Bar Association has also created the Legal Technology Resource Center, which provides technological resources to their members, helping attorneys stay updated and informed on not just products and services but also the most ethical and efficient ways to utilize them.

With such services at an attorney’s disposal, there is a plethora to choose from. Particularly as the use of experts (and the breadth of their areas of scientific specialty) has increased, it is all the more important that attorneys stay up-to-date on the legal technologies available to them, as it can assist in understanding complex ideas and issues. At every stage of the trial, there is a helpful technological solution that can be employed for better organization and strategy. As such, it is worth investigating this relatively novel field of development.

For years, trial exhibits and demonstrative evidence were typically shown to the jury by enlarging a photograph onto foam boards or by using a slide reel on an overhead screen projector. But as the technology advances, so do the number of ways that a case can be presented. Fortunately for attorneys, litigants, and expert witnesses, computer-based trial presentation programs have (thankfully!) eradicated the need to use actual slides and have made the presentation of information more streamlined. Microsoft PowerPoint, an older but still favorite program among attorneys, is a software package that creates electronic slide show presentations. The relative ease of editing and array of visualization tools makes it a straightforward to present ideas to the jury in a broken-down, slide-by-slide way. There are other programs specifically designed for trial presentation, such as TrialDirector and Sanction by Verdict Systems, that have been around for years and allows all trial materials (exhibits, transcripts, audio, and videos) to be uploaded and easily accessed.

The advent of Apple’s iPad, however, has been arguably the biggest game changer in trial presentation in recent years. Not only does the electronic storage capability on the iPad allow attorneys to leave behind boxes of heavy paper files, but there are a seemingly endless number of apps to choose from that can help an attorney create and organize word processing files, conduct legal research, take notes, and transcribe dictation, just to name a few.

While computer-generated graphics help attorneys and expert witnesses offer a more interactive experience to the jury, some technologies are taking it a step further. Virtual and augmented reality software programs create graphics – and sometimes, even actual witnesses – to appear in three-dimensional, holographic images. Although still in its infancy, the usefulness of this technology is promising. For example, medical experts can present life-like imagery of the human anatomy when explaining a party’s physical injuries while accident reconstructionists can create interactive scenes of an automobile collision. Even witnesses can present themselves as “in” the courtroom without having to be physically present through the use of holographic technology.

The main purpose for using computer-based programs at trial is to engage a jury’s faculties in ways that solely oral testimony cannot. Studies have shown a marked improvement in student test scores when they were presented the content in several formats. The theory behind this learning style can also be applied to jurors, and has been the driving force in attorneys and experts utilizing different audio and visual programs during testimony.

As the field of legal technology advances, so do the courtrooms themselves. Although many courthouses, unfortunately, are not equipped with the necessary components to run certain computer-based programs, there have been widespread attempts at both the federal and state court level to modify courtrooms with technological improvements such as flat-screen monitors, multi-screen displays, and ample video/audio signal outputs and inputs. The federal court system, in particular, consistently updates its courtrooms to reflect the ever-changing technological developments in trial presentation and litigation. Interestingly, these improvements have helped close the gap between high-powered attorneys and smaller, more modest firms by offering all parties the same access to services.

Overall, courtroom technology is here to stay (and grow!). Studies have shown that the use of such technology increases efficiency while decreasing trial costs, all the while improving jury retention and engagement. Most tellingly, studies have indicated that almost all jurors agree that the use of technology during trial helped improve their understanding of the testimony and evidence. In order to compete, it is vital that attorneys and experts consistently familiarize themselves with the array of programs available. If used correctly, courtroom technology can be the deciding factor in obtaining a favorable outcome in one’s case.

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