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Your Millennial Attorney CAN Be Your Hot-Seat Operator—But Should They?

Contrary to what feels like a running trend of Millennial-bashing, we’d like to go on record as saying that Millennials can frequently be extremely valuable, hard-working additions to your trial team. We’re sure many of our clients would agree, as we’ve gotten to work alongside quite a few truly impressive young trial attorneys.

Their valuable Millennial skillset often includes an inherent grasp of technology and visual presentation – given that they’ve been using it nearly their entire lives. As a result, it’s reasonable to look at your young-gun attorneys and think, “Hey, they know how all this works! They can certainly handle running our presentations at trial” – or, indeed, for the young gun to offer to do so themselves. We’re all trying to save money for our clients, so thinking of a Millennial attorney as a great budget hot-seat option makes total sense.

And it’s true, many young attorneys probably can be your hot-seat operator. But not only is it a risky move, it is also arguably a significant misuse of their talents and courtroom experience. Why? Because: 1) complex technology needs and unexpected problems will happen, and 2) your budding attorneys can’t absorb the minutiae of case strategy and trial techniques with their heads buried in a PowerPoint presentation.

4 Technical Issues That Will Happen in the Courtroom

1) Presentation hardware problems, such as:

  • A courtroom with absent or outdated AV. Technology has come a long way, but not all courtrooms have caught up. Quite a few jurisdictions still lack modern conveniences and equipment when it comes to audiovisual components. In these circumstances, an untrained tech fill-in won’t necessarily know what to look for and what they need to bring or request to ensure everything will run and that jurors can see your presentation well enough for it to be most effective.
  • Bad cable connections. With any connector cable, especially older cables like VGA, the prongs can get bent or loose, which can prevent video from displaying or cause crazy colors to appear. A hot-seat operator needs to be able to identify when there’s an issue with a cable and have backups readily available.
  • Cable length concerns. If your cable length is more than 50 ft., you can lose signal quality – and often the entire signal. The safest bet is to use a distribution amplifier when going over 25 ft.

2) Video plays fine on your laptop, but not on the courtroom projector.

Video issues are the number one most common problem we all face in the courtroom. It will happen to you at some point, whether you’re a veteran hot-seat operator or an attorney on your own.

For example: You need to play a non-live witness and cross-examine an adverse witness by video. Your IT staff loaded the video deposition files and transcripts and helped you create designations. While prepping the night before, you played them through three times to confirm they work, but you haven’t yet tried connecting your laptop to the conference room projector. The next morning, you arrive early and connect your laptop for one final test. You hit play – and nothing.

Common reasons for video playback problems:

  • Absence of proper codecs. All computers use codec files to play video. The problem is that not all computers use the same codec files. So, if a videographer creates your video deposition file and is using a different codec than your laptop, you can experience problems playing it back. Resaving your video in a coding utility application will fix this problem.
  • Wrong sound output selected. Before Windows 10, most laptops would automatically play the sound through whatever audio cable was plugged in. Nowadays, you need to tell Windows 10 which output you would like, the local speakers or the courtroom audio. If that doesn’t solve your issue, try running the Playing Audio option in the Troubleshoot section of Windows.
  • Outdated video driver. If your firm designates trial laptops that are only used for the courtroom, device updates often go unnoticed. You’ll need to find the appropriate driver and update it.

3) Opposing counsel exchanges new exhibits and they don’t work.

Typically, both sides exchange their final trial exhibits within a few days of opening statements. That’s plenty of time to confirm that the PDF documents, video clips, etc. load properly in your presentation software, and that they’re named appropriately for quick access.

But let’s say you’re working on an intellectual property case with large CAD drawings, technical drawings, and other patent files. This is usually a simple process that happens in seconds, but because there are multiple file formats within file types, it is essential that your laptop has the latest viewer that can read all of them. For instance, many people think a PDF is a PDF is a PDF; but there are in fact many small file details to be aware of and account for, particularly when time is of the essence.

Another issue is file size. If the files are very large, such as over 1GB, they can take a laptop that lacks sufficient processing power/memory several minutes to load, or worse, they never load. They will need to be compressed in order to display properly.

To overcome issues like these, a hot-seat operator must be knowledgeable about various file conversion and compression tools.

4) You need to make fast edits to a dense trial graphic.

Let’s say you have a Ponzi scheme case and you are defending an accounting firm. As most of these types of cases do, you have very dense accounting principles and financial data that need to be explained to jurors.

At the heart of your case is a flowchart that will be used by your star witness and again in closing. Before the witness takes the stand, you show opposing counsel the graphic, and they quickly object to several portions of it. The judge agrees, and now you need to make edits. These edits might seem small or easy (or maybe not), but if your flowchart was designed with movement, multiple reveals, etc. this can be tricky without a high level of PowerPoint knowledge – and it will need to be done fast.

A similar scenario would be if an adverse witness suddenly says something you want to follow up on in cross; your operator may need to be able to instantly locate and bring up a corresponding exhibit in the proper software.

What Do You Really Want Your Millennial Trial Attorney to Learn?

There’s something to be said for a jack-of-all-trades, but the mastery you want your young hires to develop is as attorneys; if they’re running your presentation, they’re missing out on much of the crucial experience of watching and participating in the trial from that perspective. If their chief concern is ensuring your tech runs smoothly, the focus of their learning experience has shifted away from witnessing how to communicate with and enthrall jurors, strategize, and react to opposing counsel.

When it comes to tech, they should be studying how senior attorneys are using it to enhance their cases, how they’re varying it, and when they’re turning it all off and just speaking to jurors – not addressing IT problems and tweaking slides. This is best done by a seasoned, dedicated hot-seat operator.

Final Thoughts

There are many more potential issues than those outlined above. Furthermore, effective trial presentations often involve presentation software beyond PowerPoint (such as Trial Director). Each program has an array of tools for different scenarios, and a complete understanding of their ins and outs takes hundreds of hours or more of experience.

This isn’t to say you should let your Millennial attorney’s technology skills go to waste. Simple hearings, or even one- to two-day trials, where you know you’ll only have a set number of slides or video to play, can be the perfect place to save some money and let your young attorney run the show.

Just bear in mind that tech needs and problems will arise – sometimes minor, sometimes major. So when it really counts, make sure your hot-seat operator has the training and experience to adapt to any situation and adjust your graphics on the fly.

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By: Adam Bloomberg – Managing Director of Visual Communications & David Metz – Consultant

 

 

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