University Career Center

Veronica Valentine McNally is the Associate Director of the Trial Advocacy Programs at Michigan State University College of Law. She teaches Pretrial I in the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute. She also practices law with Valentine & Associates, P.C., in West Bloomfield, Michigan, in the areas of Civil Litigation, Domestic Arbitration, International Arbitration, Manufacturer’s Representative Law, and Insurance Law. Ms. McNally received her Juris Doctor from MSU College of Law in 2004 and her Bachelor of Arts from University of Michigan in 2000.

So, you want to go to law school? Do you know what a trial will look like by the time you graduate? Think high-tech.

If you want to go to law school because you want to be a trial lawyer, you should know few things…

Trials are going high-tech. Why? They have to. We live in a sound bite world. The rule of thumb in sales is that you have 10 seconds to make your case. Trials are no different. We expect to get our information quickly – sometimes at the touch of a button. Most often, our information comes to us through a screen – whether it is a cell phone, computer, or television screen. It is almost undisputed that as a society, we are educated through screens. Jurors are no different. By the time you try your first case, you will be presenting it electronically.

What is an electronic case presentation? It is the use of technology to display a case to a jury. It is a visual presentation. Courtrooms have upgraded their facilities to include technology platforms. Some courtrooms have large flat screen monitors and mini-flat screen monitors in the jury box; others have portable carts and screens. We call these technology models, Courtroom Technology.

Courtroom Technology is a broad term that encompasses anything from the use of a document camera, video conferencing to conduct an examination of a witness, and electronic evidence display software to show a judge or jury your exhibits. The new Corpus Christi Federal Courthouse was designed with technology courtrooms. In fact, each courtroom was designed with digital audio systems and presentation systems. You can watch Judge Janis Graham Jack’s Courtroom Technology Video.

In litigating a case, a lawyer’s job is to educate and persuade. Studies have shown that the best way to educate a jury about your case is to do it visually. Nevertheless, lawyers are just learning of the importance of employing a visualization strategy in preparing a case. By the time you have your first trial, this will the only way to present a case. To help educate practicing lawyers, Michigan State University College of Law recently hosted a conference on this topic.

One study that has provided insight on the topic of visual presentation is from Animators at Law, an attorney-owned litigation-consulting firm. In 2003, it initiated and administered a study comparing the learning and communication styles of practicing attorneys and the public. April Tate Tishler, Animators at Law, The Animated Attorney: Effective Use of Demonstratives in Jury Trials, 780 PLI/Lit 861, 870 (September 12, 2008). The three learning styles assessed in that study included auditory learners (learn by hearing), kinesthetic learners (learn by experiencing learning in the form of hands-on workshop), and visual learners (learn by seeing). Visual learners enjoy television, often utilize charts and whiteboards in a corporate setting, and make up the vast majority of the population. This study was inspired by a trend of repeated studies that found that the general population is approximately 65% visual, 20% auditory, and 15% kinesthetic. 780 PLI/Lit 861, 867.

If the majority of the population is either visual or kinesthetic, why have attorneys been communicating with juries primarily by speaking to them? Animators at Law found that the results of the study indicated that attorneys and juries communicate and learn differently; jurors are most likely to be visual learners, while practicing attorneys are most likely to be non-visual learners. 780 PLI/Lit 861, 867-868. The lesson? All trial lawyers need to get high-tech.

The American Bar Association is “helping lawyers solve the technology puzzle” with its Legal Technology Resource Center. You may be wondering if the thought of presenting an entire case electronically can be a bit overwhelming for some? You may be surprised to learn that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Just ask a forty-year attorney who has tried a case using it or a seasoned judge who has had it used in his courtroom. As for the new lawyer — she will never know any other way to practice. Law schools across the country are teaching law students to be tech-savvy trial lawyers.

Here are links to just a few of the programs offered: Michigan State University College of Law (home of the Geoffrey Fieger Trial Practice Institute); William and Mary (home of the Center for Legal and Court Technology); New York Law School; and University of Maryland.

There are a few important things to remember about Courtroom Technology:

  • Everyone will be using it by the time you graduate from law school.
  • It does not have to be expensive.
  • It does not have to be elaborate.
  • It just has to be well thought-out.

It can come in the form of a PowerPoint presentation or a picture displayed digitally. One electronic evidence display program used is inData’s TrialDirector. You can watch a demo on inData’s website. It is also worth noting that lawyers are using technology at other stages of litigation than just the trial. Some attorneys are using courtroom technology during motion practice. Additionally, lawyers are using it during less formal proceedings such as arbitrations.

The use of technology makes a case more understandable. If done properly, it allows the attorney to convey her theme and theory of the case to the jury in an organized and concise fashion. So, what will your first trial look like? Think high-tech.