The Court Technology and Trial Presentation Blawg features articles, reviews and news of interest to lawyers and other legal professionals. This blog is published by Ted Brooks, a Trial Presentation and Legal Technology Consultant, Author and Speaker. Ted's trial experience includes the Los Angeles Dodgers divorce trial, People v. Robert Blake murder trial, and a hundreds of high profile, high value and complex civil matters.

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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

How to Hot-Seat a Trial

Two new articles are featured in the June edition of Law Technology News covering the role of the Trial Technician, also known as the "Hot-Seat."

In "How Not to Crash," John Cleaves offers survival tips for litigation support staff who find themselves sudden occupants of the courtroom's "hot seat."

Next, Ted Brooks offers five important rules to follow when you are in charge of trial technology in "Survival Secrets."

Mr. Cleaves approaches the topic from the perspective of a paralegal or litigation support staffer, while I share a few tips, based on my years of experience. John (Cleaves) also has a great deal of experience in the Hot Seat, but for purposes of this piece, chooses to offer some relatively “low-tech” ideas for getting the job done when you don’t have enough time or resources to purchase and learn a bunch of new software and equipment.

I’m not going to rewrite my article here, but I can tell you that anyone who happens to find themselves assuming the role of a Trial Tech will quickly understand why it’s called the Hot Seat. If not for the pure stress of the job itself, add the expectation from everyone that nothing will go wrong – ever. Add to that the fact that once a jury gets accustomed to seeing an exhibit displayed within a couple seconds of its mention, what might have been an acceptable delay using hard copy exhibits will seem like a very uncomfortable eternity.

With that, one of favorite sayings with respect to trial technology is that “It’s not a matter of if something will go wrong, but rather when, how badly it will fail, and whether anyone else will even realize there was a problem.” Ideally, you fix the issue and move on, without anyone else knowing about it. While many relatively common issues are known and often discussed here and elsewhere such as the Trial Technology LinkedIn Group, you will need to be capable of figuring out problems in every trial – some of them rare and unique.

I will add that everyone from the Judge to the jurors, counsel, and your opposing Trial Tech can easily spot someone who is unfamiliar with and uncomfortable in the Hot Seat. Unfortunately, experience is the only way to get past this. I would strongly encourage anyone new to this to start with small matters and hearings, rather than boldly jumping in over your head, and perhaps having a negative effect on the outcome of your trial, or your career. Many law firms will handle smaller matters with in-house staff, but will bring in a professional Trial Tech for larger, more complex matters.

The role of the Hot-Seat Trial Tech is a full-time job, often requiring 12 or more hours per day. Needless to say at this point, it’s generally not a good idea to add these full-time duties to the responsibilities list of someone who already has a full day planned during trial, such as an attorney or paralegal assigned to the case. 

If you'd like to view these articles (or the entire June edition) in a nice online magazine format, here's a link to Law Technology News. A free subscription is required, and it's certainly worth far more than the cost of admission.

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