I've often said that when it comes to trial technology, it’s not a question of if it will fail, but rather when it will fail, how bad that failure will be, how long it will take to fix it, and whether anyone else will even notice that something has gone wrong.
ACTUAL CASE STUDY:
I arrived well before the trial day started in a California U.S. District Court recently, and proceeded to connect my laptop to the system in this “wired” courtroom. I connected everything just as I had been doing every morning, and proceeded to display a document – just to make sure everything was working as expected. It was not. A blank screen showed on all displays, where the document should be.
It is extremely unlikely that this would be the end of the story. Let’s take a closer look at everything stated, with possible and actual outcomes.
This article is number 3 in a series entitled “Trial Tech Tips.” Focused on the crossroads of law and technology, and in no particular order, we will share a collection of proven and tested methods for accomplishing a wide variety of common and/or critical tasks encountered during trial preparation or presentation. We will also try to rank them from one to ten on a “geek scale,” with one being not too technical, and 10 being very technical. On a geek scale of one to ten, this article would be rated at about a 5.
“…arrived well before the trial day started” – Well, at least something went right in this scenario, and it was not by accident. It was the result of planning ahead, and having the experience necessary to anticipate problems. Those who feel comfortable and confident enough to come sauntering in a couple minutes before the judge enters the courtroom are not the ones you’d want in charge of your trial presentation.
“…proceeded to connect my laptop to the system in this “wired” courtroom” – Many Federal Courts have everything needed to connect your laptop into their system and present your evidence electronically. Some State courts also have equipment. In any event, it is imperative to hook up and test the system prior to the first day of trial, and then perform a quick check daily. Bear in mind that systems and connections differ, and don’t expect them to accommodate your desire to connect an iPad wirelessly.
“I connected everything just as I had been doing every morning, and proceeded to display a document – just to make sure everything was working as expected” – These is only one way to verify that everything is in working order. Test it. If it works, great. If not, and you’re in trial, and you’re in a rush (which you always are during trial), you have a real problem. Even if you’ve been in trial for several days, weeks, or even months, you should never assume that nothing has changed. From something as simple as a cord getting unplugged, to a major computer meltdown, something can and likely will go wrong at some point.
“It was not. A blank screen showed on all displays, where the document should be” – Now here’s where this story could take a number of different directions. One suspect would be the courtroom equipment. Maybe someone has unplugged a cable, switched to the wrong input or output, or turned the system off.
If you have only one trial laptop, you’ll have to quickly check for problems there. If you can’t find anything wrong, you must proceed to begin troubleshooting the presentation system, attempting to isolate, locate, and correct the problem. If you’re not familiar with trial presentation equipment, it’s much too late to call someone else to help. At this point, you’re in pretty deep without a backup plan or the experience to fix the problem. It’s pretty much “game over” for you at this point.
If you do have a backup laptop ready to go with the current and updated trial database, now’s the time to connect that and see if that fixes the problem. Many things can go wrong with a computer, and although most are not really serious, one little problem can be enough to ruin your day (or career) when you’re really in a hurry. Switching to your backup quickly eliminates the other computer and its connections to the system from the equation. If that corrects the issue, you’re good to go. If not, then as in the previous scenario, you will have to look for other problems with the system.
In this particular case, one laptop had a display setting issue. Not a major problem, but one that might be expected when connecting and disconnecting several times per day to courtroom equipment during the day, and war room equipment in the evening. Since I did (and ALWAYS do) have a backup ready to go, the problem was quickly corrected, and nobody knew that anything had happened. The setting was switched and both laptops were back in action.
Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised. (Dennis Waitley)