When I was working in Tampa one of the younger attorneys came up to me and asked: “What is it that you do here?”
There is a danger in trying to explain to someone what I do of the listener’s eye glazing over and zoning out if the explanation gets too technical. One attorney once said that getting him coffee was a part of “litigation support” but I quickly educated him that it wasn’t.
When I started in this job is was described as “Automated Litigation Support” or “ALS” but over the years and with the increase of litigation specific technology, it has evolved into “Litigation Support” or “Litigation Technology”.
Basically, someone in this work is assisting their attorneys in using technology to help them identify, organize and present their cases in court. I used to say that I was a hybrid of a paralegal/information technology specialist but it has gotten increasingly technical since the changes years ago in the rules of electronic discovery.
In most offices, litigation support/litigation technology is broken down into three main areas of expertise:
- Trial Graphics
- Data Management
- Courtroom Presentation
Trial Graphics is often the fun and creative part of the job when attorneys need help taking an idea or argument and making a graphical representation of it. This is helpful when they have a complex issue to explain to a jury. Many times this will involve the use of Microsoft PowerPoint. In my opinion, PowerPoint is widely over used. It works effectively at times but not as something that becomes a crutch for making a presentation. Attorneys like to use a PowerPoint presentation for their closing arguments and I have seen it used successfully many times. There are some who will use it in their opening statements but it can be very tricky to maneuver if you use evidence that you expect to come into trial. I always caution attorneys that they need to be sure the evidence is coming in or they will have some consequences if it doesn’t. Aside from that, I have seen the overkill in using a PowerPoint when it was routinely used for opening statements with no fewer than 100 slides.
Data Management is the management of data that we receive such as discs, flash drives or hard drives. We analyze the data and determine the best way to process it and make it available for the attorney to use. I used to call this area “document management” but the fact is that we don’t get as much paper anymore that requires us to scan and put into a database. Perhaps the issue I deal with on a daily basis is helping the staff with various audio/video formats. When I started, we only had tapes so we knew how to play those but today it could be in any kind of format. We must also assist the staff in getting the discovery out to opposing counsel.
Courtroom presentation involves getting the software and equipment together for attorneys and paralegals to use in the courtroom. When I started, I had to bring all the equipment such as projector, screen, cables, computers, etc. Today we usually only need to bring a laptop to plug into the court’s presentation system. We have software that allows us to show documents, photos, play audio and video from one software program for presentation to the jury during witness testimony. The original is admitted into evidence and their review during deliberation but in using presentation software we are able to direct the attention of the jury especially since society now get most of their news from a screen. It is a very effective way to communicate.
So as you can see, it is more than getting coffee.
As the practice of law gets more technical and digital, lawyers graduating from law school are becoming more tech savvy and independent on how they use it. I would predict that in the next 10 years or so that offices will no longer need a person who specializes in litigation technology. The software is getting more user-friendly and the technology is getting better. Years ago I mocked people who said the law office would one day be a paperless office. Although it isn’t totally without paper, I have to admit that it is paper-less.