The Impact of Technology in the Courtroom

By Erica Massaro-Hales, Chad Paulin

August 14, 2017

In the courtroom, a legal team must run like a well-oiled machine. When the use of technology is crucial to presenting openings, exhibits, demonstratives, and/or video depositions, it is vital for the individual running the technology to be highly experienced and possess exceptional problem-solving skills. Having a seasoned hot-seat professional with a thorough understanding of how different courtroom technology systems work and the ability to prepare for any malfunction and who can provide support and expertise under intense pressure ensures a smooth trial.

Occasionally, litigators choose to run their technology without assistance — but this comes at a high risk. With a wide variety of presentation methods to choose from and continuously emerging technology, it can be difficult to choose the appropriate method of presentation, and there is no guarantee it will be successful. Not always rehearsed or “battle tested,” these presentations can result in rushed video, ineffective graphics, or even the failure to produce an essential document needed to impeach a witness.

PROPER USE OF COURTROOM TECHNOLOGY IS A VITAL COMPONENT TO A SUCCESSFUL TRIAL

In a text-heavy setting, a jury can easily become confused or bored, so it is crucial to focus their limited attention to the main arguments of the case. Demonstratives and video facilitate the explanation of difficult concepts and are extremely effective. In a study conducted by Judge Herbert B. Dixon Jr., 141 jurors were surveyed on the use of technology in the courtroom. An astounding 94% of jurors agreed or strongly agreed that the use of technology “improved [their] ability to serve as a juror in this case.” More important, 86% of surveyed jurors agreed that technology used to display exhibits and play audio increased their understanding of evidence presented in the case (Dixon). In addition to prepared graphics, on-the-spot tools such as highlighting and pulling out paragraphs add an interactive element to presentations that can engage a jury and simplify dense exhibits. Presentations with live, digital highlighting and electronic inking or writing are perceived to be more exciting (Johnson). A seasoned hot-seat operator can perform these actions promptly and with ease, allowing the presenting attorney to remain focused on their presentation and forming a connection with the jury.

ERRORS IN PRESENTATIONS CAN HAVE LASTING EFFECTS

The misuse of courtroom technology can cause a litigator to seem unprepared and unconfident. Every courtroom setup is different in the provision of monitors, projectors, and speakers, leaving plenty of room for error. Out of the 141 jurors from the survey, only 72% thought that attorneys knew how to operate the equipment (Dixon). That leaves roughly 40 jurors who believed that the technology was mishandled or not fully utilized. Seamless integration of technology in the courtroom is critical to captivating an audience. A jury can become confused by unnecessary distractions, which reduces the overall effectiveness of an argument. If they are misdirected by irrelevant components, they may become less engaged and develop negative attitudes toward the presentations or presenters (Bradshaw). To prevent distraction, the operation of tools must be timed to match visuals and correspond to the oration of the presenting attorney. Active learning occurs only when verbal and pictorial representations are synchronized. Poorly timed graphics may overload the viewer with information — for instance, if slides are quickly brushed over or accidentally displayed on screen ahead of time (Mayer). In situations where this occurs, litigators may even be admonished for leading a witness. The overall effect of attorney error can bias the jury and cause them to favor opposing opinions.

FRUSTRATION WITH TECHNOLOGY CAN IMPACT CREDIBILITY

The surest way to cede a jury’s confidence is to compromise a cool disposition. Technology is not always reliable, and when things need to occur on a meticulous schedule, tensions rise. Frustration and anxiety are evident in the confined spaces of a courtroom. A study by Quantified Impressions analyzed media appearances of 120 top financial communicators and found that “a speaker’s tone, appearance and demeanor proved nine times more important in making a strong impression on potential investors than the actual content the speaker presented” (Fuller). A jury is constantly reading the room for a sign of insecurity, and the outcome of a case could rest on how an attorney questions a witness or communicates with their team under pressure. An expert technology consultant serves as a buffer for machine error and knows the best solution to ease the strain on the team and quickly resolve the issue.

A succinct and well-run presentation allows a case to be presented with professionalism and demonstrates respect for both the court and the jury’s time. In a scenario where mistakes matter, “whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.” The surest way to plan for success is to rely on a seasoned hot-seat operator who can prepare appropriately and problem-solve when technical incidents inevitably occur. This ensures that the presenter can remain calm and confident, with full capacity to focus on the content of the case and connecting with the jury.

RESOURCES:
Bradshaw, Amy C. “Effects of Presentation Interference in Learning with Visuals.” Journal of Visual Literacy 23.1. Pp 41-68, 2003.
Dixon, Herbert B., Jr. “The Evolution of High-Technology Courtroom.” Future Trends in State Courts: Special Focus on Access to Justice: National Center for State Courts, 2011.
Fuller, Rose. “Quantified Impressions’ New Scientific Analysis of Top Financial Communicators Pinpoints How Speakers Build Trust, Influence Audiences.” Business Wire. Quantified Impressions LLC, 2012.
Johnson, Kevin E. “Literature Review: Perception and Cognitive Impact of Using PowerPoint.” Nova Southeastern University, 2008.
Mayer, Richard E. “Cognitive Theory and the Design of Multimedia Instruction: An Example of the Two-Way Street Between Cognition and Instruction.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning. Wiley Periodicals Inc., 2002.