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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Friday, August 5, 2016

Trial Tech Tips - Electronic Exhibit Stickers

Trial Tech Tips - Electronic Exhibit Stickers
Since most courts prefer to have parties pre-mark their trial exhibits these days, we typically create a PDF set of trial exhibits with electronic stickers on the first page. These can easily be printed or distributed as needed. Handling this task prior to trial can save a great deal of trial time and confusion by avoiding the dreaded, “May we have the next-in-order exhibit number, please?” With this in mind, if you’ve ever personally enjoyed the “opportunity” to manually affix a set of peel-and-stick trial exhibit stickers in a large case, or have noticed how a trial binder gets bent and crooked with most of the stickers stacked up in the bottom-right corner, you will really appreciate this article.  

While there are several ways to apply electronic trial exhibit stickers using graphics programs or apps, we will focus on TrialDirector, which features one of the best and easiest methods available.

General Rules for Exhibit Stickers – Ideally, parties will meet and confer to agree on a pre-determined numerical range for each party. Additionally, it can be even easier if all of the deposition exhibits have been numbered sequentially, in which case you can just keep the same numbering going into trial. Don’t forget that just because it’s in there doesn’t mean you have to use it, or that it is admissible. While you should consider stipulating to as many as possible, others will be worked out during trial. Unlike the days of marking and numbering trial exhibits in the order in which they were identified during trial, there is no real point in trying to make sure that the most important exhibit in your case gets marked as Trial Exhibit 1. It is the degree of emphasis and importance of an exhibit that will make it stand out – not its exhibit number. I've seen entire exhibit sets renumbered at the last minute trying to achieve some sort of magical numerical flow. The cost is usually several extra hours of labor, with little or no benefit.

Customizing Exhibit Stickers – The stickers can and should be customized. Following the standards that have been in place many years with paper stickers, plaintiffs are usually yellow, with defendants taking blue. In the event you will be using a joint set of exhibits, you may want to go with green for that.

TrialDirector includes a set of customizable sticker templates. It's easiest to begin with one that is close to what you want to create. You may or may not want to use all of the fields. I generally use the top for type of exhibit (plaintiffs, defendants, joint, trial), the next for the word “exhibit,” and the bottom with the number, leaving one field blank (Sub Caption), and then adjusting the font size appropriately. Note that you can adjust font style and size, sticker style, color, and text. As noted above, you may want to leave a field blank.

Affixing Exhibit Stickers – As with paper stickers, you'll want to avoid covering anything on the exhibit. Although it is an electronic sticker, you must still manually place each one. While you could run a program to automatically place them, you would have no way to ensure you didn't bury a Bates number, or something else. Once the sticker has been placed, you don't need to save it like a markup, as it is the one markup that is automatically saved. If you need to move it, select the arrow tool, then click on the sticker to activate it, then drag it wherever you want. Note that this action must be saved, however.

Assigning Exhibit Numbers – Plaintiffs will often take the first range (e.g., 1-499), followed by defendants (500-999) unless you're working with a joint set. In any event, make to allow enough room so you don't overlap numbering. Assigning trial exhibit numbers may be done when building the exhibit list, and can also be handled in the database. The Court may instruct you to call the rest “Trial Exhibits” when using a joint set, so as to neutralize any prejudice or confusion resulting from the jury knowing which party brought it in.

Once you've determined which exhibit will be which number, you will need to set up the database. One way to do this is by selecting the exhibit sticker, which will prompt you to assign an exhibit number if one has not already been set. Although this works fine, you might want to make the process a little easier by numbering all of them at once.

Batch-numbering Exhibits – Once you have a plan, you can select all or just a smaller set of exhibits to sequentially add Bates numbers. You can use the Shift-Select or CTRL-select methods, but note that they will be numbered in the order selected. So, if you select one from the bottom and then one from the top, followed by one in the middle, they will be numbered in that order. To get to this point, simply go to “Tools,” then “Batch Field Fill Selected Items,” and then select Trial Exhibit or another field. Add your starting number, and select the Document level. Once you've assigned numbers, selecting the exhibit sticker will automatically populate with that number.

Production of Numbered Exhibits – Now that you have all of your trial exhibits numbered, you'll need to have them printed and share with opposing counsel. The preferred file format is PDF, which makes it easy to print and distribute. Once again, TrialDirector has a nice feature which makes this a simple process. Simply click “Documents,” “Make PDF from Selected Items.” You can adjust the quality, so you might want to try a couple options to see what works for your database. Somewhere around the middle is generally a decent mix between image quality and file size. You can also “burn in” a Bates number, using the “Print with Page Footer” dialog.

If this is all a bit beyond your personal pain threshold, most litigation support and trial presentation vendors handle this type of project on a regular basis. If you’re getting close to trial, it would be a good idea to get your Trial Tech involved in order to make sure it works properly. There aren’t many good excuses when you’re forced to do it over again. Plus, the Trial Tech is the one in the hot-seat during trial. If they’re responsible for putting it all together and it doesn’t work, you’ll know where to look.