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Courtroom Technology - Avoiding Critical Failure


Including a timeline and checklist

Using technology to present a case at mediation or trial can be great. A client’s story gains strength and credibility with pictures, audio and video. Impeachment of a witness with deposition video playback can be devastating.

Equally devastating is the moment when you connect your laptop to give that critical presentation and there’s nothing but a blue screen. And there you are, holding your remote in your hands, saying, “Well, we have a picture of this injury in the presentation and if the projector was working you would see…”

How do you avoid failures like this in front of decision-makers? By remembering two key points. First, proper planning prevents poor performance, commonly known as the Five P Principle (or depending on your background, Six P Principle.) Second, always have a fallback. Because Murphy’s Law always hops into your briefcase even if you’ve forgotten everything else.

Our favorite methods for success are old-fashioned. We use a timeline to help us plan. We use a checklist to make sure we have everything. And we have a back-up plan. We recognize that not every situation requires this level of preparation and that sometimes one has to prepare in a much shorter period. Adjustments and adaptations are always necessary. Recognize that less time requires greater focus in order to avoid failure.


100 days before presentation:

  • Visit the location where you will be presenting and identify:
    • Is it a pre-wired facility with projection, screens and audio?
    • If yes, what do I need to plug into it properly?
    • If yes, is the equipment decent enough to use or should I bring my own?
  • Check video and audio for quality of presentations
    • If yes, can everyone see the screen?
  • Can jurors read the small print on an economic report from their seats or should I bring in my own screen?
  • Are there easily accessible power sources?
    • Do they work?
  • Do they have an audio system that I can plug into?
  • Will the audio system present crisp sound that can be heard by everyone?

If you don’t know exactly what courtroom you will be assigned to, check out a couple of courtrooms to give you a flavor of the facility. Same with a mediation environment.

90 days before presentation:

  • Identify all the equipment and software you need [see Technology Checklist]
  • If you are missing anything, identify ways you will purchase or borrow the equipment

50 days before presentation:

  • If you are purchasing equipment make sure it has arrived
  • If you are borrowing equipment, make sure you have borrowed it for a test run
  • Do a complete in-office dry run with all equipment and a test performance
  • Send back or replace anything that is not working
  • Purchase any additional parts that were missing you did the dry run

15 days before presentation:

  • Do a final inventory to make sure you have all the equipment you need

5 days before presentation:

  • Do a run-through of the presentation both for feedback and technical testing

1 day before presentation:

  • Set-up and test equipment and back-up plan. Time the back-up plan to make sure it can be up and running in less than 10 minutes if you experience failure.

Day of presentation:

  • Arrive 1.5 hours before the presentation and do a set-up. Test all equipment, including audio and video playback. Test the back-up system.
  • Take a deep breath and present

Technology Checklist

  • Projector: Preferably 3000 lumens or higher, 500:1 aspect ratio or higher, 36 decibels or lower. We use an InFocus IN5106 with 5000 lumens, 1000:1 aspect ratio and 32 decibels. It was around $3,000 in 2009.
  • Second monitor if using Trial Director
  • ELMO: A good fall-back if the computer fails
  • Screen: Da-Lite Insta-Theater screens, ranging from 60” to 100”, are quick and easy to set-up. Prices are $200-400.
  • Trial Laptop
  • Second laptop
    Trial Director: Approximately $600 for a seat-license in 2009 with maintenance contract
  • Re-install CD with Trial Director
  • External Hard Drive with complete presentation and case back-up
  • Color printer for exhibits created in the courtroom
  • Flash/thumb drive
  • Powered speaker: We use M-Audio BX5a powered studio monitors. A pair was $300 in 2009. One is powerful enough for clear sound in most courtrooms.
  • XLR cables (various lengths)
  • 3.5 mm to XLR cable
  • VGA splitter
  • VGA (various lengths including 25’ and couplers)
  • Extension cords
  • Power strips
  • Mouse for laptop
  • RF presentation mouse: We prefer a simple but well-built interface like the Logitech 2.4 GHz Cordless Presenter (around $130 on Amazon right now.)
  • Zip ties
  • Gaffer tape
  • Small portable table: Most courtrooms don’t have enough room at counsel table or don’t have a good place to put a projector
  • Back-up plan: This can be a color print-out of the presentation to use on an ELMO, a second laptop, a second butcher block, blow-ups

You won’t need all of this equipment for every presentation. Evaluate your needs and plan accordingly.

The timeline and checklist may seem like overkill. All you need is one failure where the judge says, “Sorry counsel, it is now or never for your closing,” and you’ll understand why one should always be prepared.

Good luck.