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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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Connected in Court

Sitting in trial earlier this week, it appeared the Earth was beginning to self-destruct. Panic spread quickly as trial team members from both sides all realized --- the Internet was down! Fortunately, I was able to feed our team from my iPhone Personal Hotspot. Not sure how/if the other side survived. In any event, this caused me to reflect upon just how dependent we are on various ways of keeping connected these days.

Litigation-Tech Los Angeles Office and The Biltmore Hotel
It seems like sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done -- especially when you're in trial. Trying to keep up with email messages and phone calls can be a real challenge, in addition to most anything else not case-related. For those who are in trial frequently, no doubt you've witnessed the wrath of the Judge at some point as someone was caught trying to quickly thumb-type that important note. Or worse yet, maybe you've had the opportunity to enjoy the musical ring tone of someone else's phone. Or worst possible scenario, maybe you were the cause of one of these disasters. There are a couple ways to deal with this for the "gotta be connected, even in court" crowd.

First, ALWAYS turn off any sounds, including the vibrating alert. A buzzing device on a table can be just as noisy and distracting as a ringing bell tone. This applies to your phone, iPad, and even your laptop. Nobody actually wants to hear your Windows login music, or an alert that your portfolio value has just dropped by 10%.

Next, it's all about the device. If you were hoping to learn here how to make the Judge think you're not actually using your phone in court (when you are), you are probably going to be disappointed. Forget about your phone. Even if you hold it under the table to secretly type away, there’s something about your posture that makes it quite obvious to anyone (i.e., Judge, Juror, Bailiff…) what’s going on. In fact, a juror might view this as disrespectful, and that you have no concern for the trial. If they can’t do it, why can you? This is not to imply you need to revert to 1980 where none of us were in contact with anyone during trial. There are ways to make it work.

Laptop: Most current laptops do not have cellular data built in, but they do have wireless access. If the courtroom has a wireless network, it’s easy to hook up and go to work. Unless someone is looking over your shoulder (you can use a screen privacy cover), they will have no idea what you are doing. Just don’t chuckle and grin if you’re typing “LOL” in response to a joke. If there is no public access, you will need to provide your own hotspot. Don’t forget that with any public network comes a degree of risk. Maybe a little less in a courtroom that a coffee shop, however. Your IT staff may have some policies and equipment for you.

iPad: There are two types of iPad – one that is wireless only, requiring a network to connect with the Internet, and one that includes cellular data access. Be forewarned that an average data plan can easily be swamped when downloading large files, causing expensive overages. So, even though you have cellular access, you’ll want to connect to a wireless network whenever one is available.

iPhone Hotspot activation screen

Mobile Hotspot: There are a few basic types of hotspot. One is a standalone device, another actually uses your phone to provide a wireless network for your devices, and there are also wireless broadband “cards” that can be used in laptops. The cards are generally intended for only one device, while mobile hotspots and phones can support several.

Newer standalone devices may be configured to access firm networks. Using a phone with a hotspot (usually an optional service at extra charge) is nice, since you probably have it with you all the time anyway. Depending on your cellular network access (which can be sketchy deep in the bowels of large concrete buildings), you can generally do pretty well, feeding several devices at once. One point to note, however, is that if you use the phone to place a call, it will cut your hotspot off. Additionally, feeding iPads and laptops with your phone can gobble up a lot of bandwidth in a hurry.

Communicating in court with the trial team can also be done via email, chat systems, and of course, the tried-and-true sticky notes.