Fifteen years ago there was a very small group of hot seat operators that were competent and trustworthy enough to run your technology in the courtroom. These days there are a lot of well-qualified hot seat operators across the country. This isn’t just an IT professional sitting behind a computer; this is a significant role within your team and someone who is going to assist you in the storytelling piece of your case. You should think of the hot seat operator like a stage manager in a play – the person who facilitates all of the moving parts running on time and smoothly.
One of the most frequently asked questions we hear from trial teams is: How much does it cost to have a “hot seat” operator run the technology in the courtroom? This might seem like an easy question to answer, but there are several factors that go into this decision. Here are some general guidelines to help answer this question.
Experience in the Courtroom for Hot Seat Operators Really Does Matter
As you will see, all of the characteristics outlined below boil down to one obvious overall trait: experience. When hiring a hot seat operator to be a part of your trial team, experience should be the number one factor in your decision-making process. Here is what to expect from different experience levels.
- Basic Abilities of Hot Seat Operators: These professionals will have a basic understanding of PowerPoint, how to turn on a projector and the document camera. They do best with simple one- to two-day trials with a small PowerPoint slide deck for opening or closing, and a handful of pre-selected documents. The audio/visual equipment will be setup in advance by someone else or a static setup is provided by the court.
Experience: 1-4 years
Rate: $95-$135 per hour
- Advanced Abilities of Hot Seat Operators: These hot seat operators will have an advanced understanding of PowerPoint and Trial Director, and can troubleshoot most audio/visual issues. They can perform video edits in the courtroom on a secondary computer. They can also create and edit basic PowerPoint slides on the spot. They will be able to perform a video/transcript synchronization onsite and load it. Most advanced operators are able to anticipate counsel’s needs. They are following your witness outlines and the testimony, and grouping relevant exhibits and testimony clips on the fly just in case you need them.
Experience: 4-8 years
Rate: $145-$185 per hour
- Expert Abilities of Hot Seat Operators: Building on the advanced capabilities, expert hot seat operators will also be able to troubleshoot any technical problem and in the few instances where problems can’t be avoided, they will be able to communicate options for solutions quickly and clearly. They can edit a short video clip in less than 15 seconds while making sure the video clip begins and ends in the exact spot needed so that, in the time it takes for counsel to lean over and give the page and line to the operator then announce to opposing counsel and the judge the designation, the video clip is ready to be shown to the jury.
Experience: 10+ years
Rate: $195-$250 per hour
- Trial Venue and Travel Time: These factors need to be considered when your trial venue is remote. Will your team have to travel by plane followed by several hours of driving time? You should expect additional charges if your hot seat operator’s driving time to the venue exceeds one hour or 30 miles.
The Critical Factors When Interviewing Your Hot Seat Operator
After considering experience level, it is important to interview and select your hot seat operator in the same way you would interview a full-time employee, especially since they will be working by your side 24/7. With that in mind, below are other steps to consider before hiring a hot seat operator.
- Don’t Put a Price on Personality. All trial teams are made up of attorneys and paralegals with different working styles and personalities. Some like to burn the midnight oil, while others stop working the minute court is in recess. When you get in the grind of trial, some teams handle stress levels differently than others. Consider your hot seat operator’s personality wisely. Does he have a pleasant disposition? Will she fit in with your team members’ personalities? Can he handle the pressure when they’re in court and all eyes are on them to handle a technology glitch? Can she take criticism or joking around at 2:00 a.m.?
- Give Them a Pop Quiz. Whether they pitch you in your office or by GoToMeeting, test your potential vendors with a real simulation of how they would quickly call up documents or perform video edits on the fly. You know how you work in the courtroom; they need to be able to read your mind. Do they have the ability to move quickly and anticipate your next move? Finally, all seasoned consultants should be able to come up with multiple solutions to technical problems on the spot.
- Check Their References. Perhaps it goes without saying, but ask for references. A potential vendor might have a great looking website with amazing graphics. Make your hiring decisions after speaking to some references. Treat hot seat operators just like you would if you were hiring them as full-time staff. Be leery of firms whose websites advertise long lists of clients for whom they’ve done work. Many expert hot seat operators work for corporations and firms who don’t want their work promoted; but these professionals will be able to provide you with several references at some of the top law firms and/or corporations across the country.
Many people think all hot seat operators have the same abilities. After all, these people reason, anyone can run a presentation with a few PowerPoint slides for a couple of days during a trial. However, few trials are quite that simple. When the stakes are high and the demands are numerous, you need someone you can trust who can perform well under pressure. Your hot seat operator needs to be proficient in all relevant software/hardware, adept at troubleshooting and able to quickly think on their feet to solve problems in the courtroom. Be sure to match your hot seat operator to your needs – assess their abilities, experience and grace under pressure. Knowing what your trial demands will help you hire the right operator.
At Litigation Insights we vet all of our presentation technology consultants. Our hot seat operators who will work with your trial team have no less than 10 years’ experience in courtrooms and mock trial venues across the country.