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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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Comparison of TrialDirector, Sanction, and Visionary (plus iPad and legal video info)

This past weekend, I enjoyed the opportunity of presenting at the National Court Reporters’ Association Trial Presentation Symposium, in Atlanta, GA. I have been involved in this program for the past few sessions, and have enjoyed the opportunity to share a bit of knowledge with a full class of participants, along with the bonus of networking with a few of the top names in the business, including Trial Consultants Robb Helt (Arkansas), Tim Piganelli (Arizona), Joe Cerda (Texas), with a short topic on court procedure by Steve Crandall, and headed up by Brian Clune. I'll also include my name here (Ted Brooks) as your California connection. (These links are to each speaker's email)

Topics that were covered included the top 3 trial presentation software packages, TrialDirector, Sanction II, and Visionary. When compared side-by-side, TrialDirector appears to be the most up-to-date of the three, having been optimized for Windows 7 and a high-powered laptop. Sanction Solutions is about to release Sanction III, reportedly within the next few weeks or so. I would expect it to be a drastic improvement over Sanction II, which is not necessarily a bad product, but it hasn’t been updated in quite a while, and appears a bit dated. Visionary is currently in version 8, and looks like it could use a little “refresh” as well.  I will be very interested in trying the next version of Sanction, and will be writing an in-depth review of that, once it is released. I haven’t heard when we might expect a new release from Visionary Legal Technologies, but I would assume they are working on it. There are certainly other trial presentation software programs on the market, including some proprietary applications (which I would not recommend, since they are essentially locking you into a vendor), but these are the top 3, listed in order of market share. 

Any of them will do the job far better than attempting to present evidence using something like hard copies of your exhibits with an ELMO (electronic document camera) or PowerPoint. When they were compared on three screens at the same time, TrialDirector was clearly ahead of the pack – at least for now. Regardless which one you prefer, it was also demonstrated why it was not a good idea for an attorney to attempt to run a trial presentation program while trying to focus on examining a witness and connecting with a jury. While none of these programs are difficult to learn, trial presentation is a full-time job, and looks best when handled by someone who does it frequently.

iPad apps for trial presentation were also covered, including TrialPad, Evidence and Exhibit A. I have thoroughly reviewed each of them on Law Technology News and this blog, and have come to the conclusion that although they are indeed very cool, and it could look pretty slick running your trial presentation with an iPad, they just don’t have nearly enough horsepower for the larger trial, and they all suffer from the limitations of the iPad. The risk v. benefit analysis of using an iPad for trial presentation doesn’t add up at this point - at least unless it is a small and manageble matter, or there is some special reason it is needed.

The final session on Sunday covered the use of High Definition video in the legal arena. I found this very interesting, especially since we had a panel of notable Certified Legal Video Specialists (CLVS) who shared the latest news on how they are using it, including Bruce Balmer, John Garnett, Ed Foppe, and Gilley Delorimier. Joe Cerda also shared his recent experiences with HD video for shooting depositions, and then displaying in trial.

It was pointed out that you need to remember that there is a difference between HD and wide-screen. While often combined into one, they are two different attributes. File size remains a critical concern, and even more so with the new HD formats. The other critical concern is that wide-screen format (16:9) is not practical for use in depositions, since there is very little need to expand the view to include the attorneys, coffee cups, and stacks of exhibits on the table. That stated, regardless of whether we can find a decent method of storing such massive files, the standard 4:3 aspect ratio remains the preferred format for deposition video. I will add that the latest version of TrialDirector now supports wide-screen display for trial presentation. Some of our courts are already using wide-screen flat panel monitors, so it is much nicer to use the full screen, rather than have the gray side boxes cropping the image. The problem here is that court projectors and screens are still primarily 4:3 aspect ratio. For now, it appears that most everyone agrees, a 4:3 MPEG1 video remains the standard for trial presentation of deposition video.

Overall, the comments were very positive, but also offered ideas on how the program might be improved. A couple of nice comments were, "You are clearly the industry leader as it relates to trial presentation," and "This symposium was AWESOME. Thanks for giving so much back to the industry guys!"

If you follow any of the LinkedIn or Yahoo groups for trial technology and/or legal videography, you will likely recognize most of the names I've mentioned, as each of them has helped us all by sharing their knowledge and experience. The NCRA Trial Presentation Symposium is certainly a great opportunity to learn a few new tricks, and to meet and greet a few of the stars of our profession (and no, I am not arrogantly referring to myself).

LinkedIn Trial Technology Group
Yahoo Trial Technology Group
Yahoo Legal Videography Group

Ted Brooks, President
Litigation-Tech LLC
"Enhancing the Art of Communication"
213-798-6608 Los Angeles
415-291-9900 San Francisco


  1. Ted, thanks once again for your participation in the program. I found the similarities in the software demo to be very informative and the differences to be subtle. It takes an advanced user, like you, to notice and appreciate the advantages of any one software over another.

    Seeing an independent demonstration of each of the three programs side by side may only be available at the NCRA Trial program. This comparison allowed each of us to make our own evaluation of which we prefer and reinforced the position that any package an attorney or firm wants to utilize will get the job done.

    For myself, I found new information in the seminar that will help me improve my skill set. Learning and improvement are a lifelong ambition and I appreciate the wealth of information provided over the two day program. I think the total course content reinforced your observation "trial presentation is a full-time job, and looks best when handled by someone who does it frequently." I would add, it only looks easy when it's done right.

    Thanks again to you, Tim, Robb, Joe, Ed and Steve for volunteering your time to improve our profession.

    Brian Clune

  2. I have to say I've been impressed with the up and comer ExhibitView. I've used all of the non-linear presentations programs you have mentioned and find ExhibitView easier than any of them.

    While it may not have all of the features as the others, it has every single feature 95% of us lawyers use in trial. In my opinion the rest is just fluff and tends to get in the way. Have you looked at ExhibitView?

  3. I haven’t personally tried ExhibitView, or several other programs which have been designed for trial presentation. There are actually several programs available, including TrialDirector, Sanction, Visionary, TrialMax, TrialPro, TrialSmart, and ExhibitView. For the iPad, you have TrialPad, Evidence, and Exhibit A. There are several to choose from, and while some may be a little easier to use than others, one can easily learn the basics to present their own evidence in a very short time, regardless which software they choose.

    While all of the additional features in the full-featured mainstream programs may seem like “fluff” to some, those of us who do this full-time rely on those features, since there is much more to trial presentation than just putting up an exhibit. PowerPoint or Adobe Acrobat can do that.

    If you like the way ExhibitView works for you, stick with it. It’s less about the software than it is about the way in which one uses it. It’s not generally the best idea for an attorney to worry about running a computer to bring up, zoom, and highlight a document anyway, as I’m sure you are aware. It can be done, but it takes away from the focus on the witness and jury, and when (not if) there is a problem, there’s nobody there to fix it for you.

  4. Just to bring everyone up to speed:

    Trial director is currently at 6.3 **Known issues should be corrected soon. (According to I.T.)
    Sanction is at 3.0. To many issues to address on this blog. 3.1 should be out in 2012 but they have made 2.9 available because of the lack of functionality of 3.0
    Trial pad is a great supplement best used for Mediatios, openings/closings, etc.
    Far too many issues for using as primary tool: loading data, video conversions, etc.

    Trial Director is still my #1 but they do need to fix all issues.

    1. TrialDirector is actually at 6.4 and yes, there are always issues to be corrected.

  5. I am a certified Visionary Trial Technician and one of my clients wants to use TrialDirector for his next trial. I have never operated it before. What is the learning curve like between the 2 programs? Thanks for any feedback!

    1. If you're good at trial presentation, you should be able to get up to speed to cover the basics quickly. Focus on what you need to do, not all the bells and whistles. You should be able to get around in it within a day or two. The help section is very good too. Let me know if you have any specific questions.

  6. I've been encountering a ton of different problems with Visionary. We have the whole suite of their programs, but I seem to having a ton of issues with their Sync program. I'm looking to try out TrialDirector to see if it's any better.

  7. Which if any of the programs allow importation of Word files, wav, wma, jiff, mpeg files, etc. It seems they primarily require a pdf or tiff only for document files, and I am not sure what they allow you to import in termd of audio and video files. Can you tell me which accept Word files?

    1. TrialDirector will allow you to import and display Word documents - I'm not sure about the other programs. All will handle common video and audio files.

      The problem with using "native" Word or other document files is that they are "live" documents, as opposed to image files such as TIFF, PDF, JPEG, PNG, etc. As a result, you cannot use critical features of the software such as zooming and highlighting. So, you're better off converting to a common image format for use in trial.

  8. are any of the programs compatible with windows 8?

    1. TrialDirector and ExhibitView are, and the latest release of Sanction is as well. Visionary states it is compatible with Windows 7, so it should work with Windows 8.


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