Tag: Litigation Technology

A Pain In My CODEC

A colleague recently asked me:  “Do you have problems in your office with third-party video files?”

I answered with a resounding:  “Yes!  They are the #1 pain in my CODEC!”

Video technology has changed since I started in litigation support.  In those days it was easy.  You had a VHS tape and you digitized it (convert into an electronic format).  Today, those VHS tapes are collecting dust in old case files while today we are under siege from digital file formats.  They come from many sources such as convenience store surveillance cameras, undercover recordings, bank videos, etc.  Unfortunately, many of these videos can only be played using proprietary players or some other form of player.  It is a huge headache and I am expected to figure it out.

Here are some common issues with video files today:

  1. Wrong CODEC.  Okay, what exactly is a “CODEC”?   The computer nerd definition is:  a device or computer program for encoding or decoding a digital data stream or signal.   So for normal people this is a video that won’t play because the player doesn’t have the file needed to play it.  For instance, if someone says “I can play it fine on my computer” but when you play the same file you encounter an error message, it usually means you are missing a CODEC.  So you have to find that little rascal somewhere but how do you know exactly what CODEC is missing?  One program that I have found useful is called GSpot.  Yes, go ahead and get your high school giggles out of the way but this is for real.  GSpot is a free Windows-based program that can identify the codecs used in video files it can also check to see what’s missing.   Click here to download GSpot. gspot
  2. Proprietary Video Players.  Most of me and my colleagues frequently have attorneys or their support staff drop a disc or flash drive on us and ask us to make it work or that they don’t know how to play it.  I have done this job long enough to find the executable file (.exe) and click around the program to figure out.  The first thing I look for is a way to export the file to a common format such as .mpg, .wmv or .avi.  If that option isn’t evident, I will click on the “about” menu and Google the software version I have.  Sometimes I have been able to locate a user guide or a software add-on that will help with exporting files.  When none of that works, I give it back to the source and tell them they need to provide some instructions on how to play the video files.  Yeah, they never like this last resort answer.
  3. AVIs are from the devil.  AVI files have to be handled very delicately.  They are wild and very unreliable.  I have found that TrialDirector doesn’t handle them very well, especially if you make clips and want to export the clips.  Forget that.  AVI stands for Audio/Video Interleaved and contains both audio and video together in a playable format.  (Insert chuckle here)  If you have a choice, export to any other format than AVI.  They are great when they work but they are too much of a wildcard.
  4. How is the jury going to play the videos?  This is something I preach to our legal staff.  You HAVE to think ahead to the jury room and think about how are they going to play the videos.  Are you going to gamble that someone on the jury will be tech savvy enough to be able to play them?  This is why it is so vitally important to do everything possible to export third-party video files to a common video format.  It doesn’t matter if I can figure out how to use the proprietary video software, I can’t be in the jury room.

Another issue with playing video files is actually playing them even if they are in a common format.  Windows Media Player is the common player on Windows PCs but you can also download the VLC player which can sometimes play video files that Windows Media Player cannot.  VLC is a free and open source cross-platform multimedia player that plays most multimedia files and various streaming protocols.  Click here to download it.  Going back to the subject of those nasty missing codecs, VLC has a wide variety of codecs.  Click here to view the various codecs available in the VLC player.  The VLC player also has place where you can get information about the codec.VLC

If you have a problem with opening video files with Windows Media Player and are unsure about the codecs available on your Windows Media Player, click on TOOLs menu > OPTIONS > PLAYER tab > select Download codecs automatically check box > click OK.

There are other codec apps available but be sure to check them first and verify they are safe to download.

 

 

 

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Why I Like Credit Card Style Flash Drives

TBI_Flash Drive ExampleFlash drives, thumb drives, jump drives or whatever you want to call them are now more common in our work than ever before.  Just as VHS tapes have almost disappeared from existence, flash drives are doing the same for discs.  Personally I would like nothing better than to get out of the CD/DVD business.  Although flash drive technology has become more convenient in storing and transporting large amounts of data, it has also been susceptible to security breaches.  Unprotected data on a flash drive can be dangerous in our business.  Because of their size, it is too easily for someone to walk out the door either intentional or unintentional with sensitive data.

Flash drives are still expensive depending on the size you need so not only do we have to be concerned about security but also we must be able to maintain costs.  To maintain costs, you want to be able to recover flash drives.  Honestly though, how many flash drives do we really get back?  While it should just be a way of transporting data, it has become more of another means of storage.  So, my dilemma has been:  how can you increase the success on having flash drives returned?

The solution literally fell into my lap one day at the office.

I was working with one of our paralegals who handed me an envelope for data that needed to be offloaded.  When I took the envelope, a credit card fell into my lap.  I picked it up and it had the name of the agency on it.  I didn’t recognize it immediately to be a flash drive.  I found the tab on the card and rotated it to reveal the USB connector.  Once I offloaded the data, I knew that I had to return the flash drive because the name of the agency was on the card.

Using the credit card style flash drives has many advantages.  First, you can easily identify the source of the flash drive and increase the chances it will be returned.  I see it much like when we would travel in Georgia when I was growing up and stopping at a gas station to use the rest room.  I remember the gas station attendant having the bathroom keys attached to large blocks of wood or some other object to remind you to return the key.  The credit card style flash drives have that same kind of accountability without attaching it to a cement block.  Of course this doesn’t give you a 100% guarantee that the flash drive will be returned but I think it makes the odds much better.

The next thing I like about this style is that it is credit card size.  It can easily be mailed or slipped into a file without the unnecessary bulk of most flash drives.

The only negative I can think of about using the credit card style flash drive is that because of the card part of the drive, it could make it difficult for users to plug it into the USB connection on the PC depending on where the user’s PC is located.  I don’t see this as a huge issue since you can always get a USB cable extension or – move the PC.

The vehicle for our data is constantly changing.  When I first began my career in litigation support we were still working with 3.5″ diskettes and VHS tapes.  If there is one constant about our career field is that it is constantly changing.  It is one of our challenges to make it as efficient as we can for our legal staff to transport the data we receive every day.

For more information, checkout this version from Flashcoast.

Discovery and Mac Users

Mac1I have dealt with issues lately with opposing counsel asking that I convert electronic discovery into a format for their Macs.  I won’t tell you what I REALLY said but I have always been very rigid about turning over data to opposing counsel in the way we have received it.  This issue with law firms having Macs and discovery defies common sense.  Let’s say it like this….if we were turning over paper that was in Chinese, would we be responsible for translating those documents?  Heck no.  No one would trust the other side for translating it for them.

Another thing about these Mac-only firms.  That can’t be an excuse.  Just go out and buy a Windows laptop.  Goodness sakes people.

So what are we – as litigation technology specialists – supposed to do with this?

As far as Electronically Stored Information (ESI) goes, the U.S. Courts have an ESI protocol which states:

b.  ESI received from third parties should be produced in the format(s) it was received or in a reasonably usable format(s).  ESI from the government’s or defendant’s business records should be produced in the format(s) in which it was maintained or in a reasonably usable format(s).

d. When producing ESI discovery, a party should not be required to take on substantial additional processing or format conversion costs and burdens beyond what the party has already done or would do for its own case preparation or discovery production.  For example, the producing party need not convert ESI from one format to another or undertake additional processing of ESI beyond what is required to satisfy its legal disclosure obligations.

Always check with your local courts regarding their policy on how to handle ESI.  Personally, I wouldn’t want to convert discovery for opposing counsel in fears that it would alter the data in some way or that something would be corrupted in the conversion process.  It just doesn’t make sense to do it.  Of course, if someone asks for a single file or two and they understand the process, I would do it but not entire volumes of discovery.

We are not responsible for the operating systems chosen by each individual opposing counsel.  It’s just silly that because they don’t have the compatible system with which to run certain applications that we should do anything to the data.  I’m sure most reasonable people can see the potential problems of catering to those who have Macs or any other forms of computer operating systems.

In today’s world, most Windows-based software have a Mac version which can be downloaded and installed.  There are times when this isn’t the case, especially when working with surveillance videos and third-party software.  I had an issue once when a company using their own proprietary software was not compatible with Macs.  The opposing counsel in this case simply went to Staples and purchased a Windows laptop.

Sure, there are some problems with Macs opening some executable files and other Windows-compatible programs.  Honestly, there have been many times I have received data which could not be accessed on our computer so I just purchased what was needed to open it.  Nothing difficult about that.  For instance, many times we have received QuickBooks files and we do not have the software so I just had to go through the process of getting it.  Not much you can do about that.  I couldn’t stop and just say we can’t open it.  Yeah, I don’t see that working out for me.

Another way to resolve Mac issue is to make the discovery available for review.  Set up an office or conference room with a Windows PC and let the opposing counsel know they can spend the day at your office reviewing the discovery.  You will find that they will usually opt to purchase a Windows laptop.

I have found that some Mac users are very adamant about their Macs although they are seriously outnumbered in the computer world.  It’s almost an offense to them if you don’t have Mac-friendly data.  Okay, well, let’s slide back over into the REAL world now.  Windows still rules whether we like it or not.  That’s just the way it is.  With the volumes of electronic data we deal with on a daily basis, we simply have to use the tools to get the job done.

 

 

How To Compare Videos In PowerPoint

videos_ppt

This week I was presented with an issue were my attorney wanted to compare versions of the same video.  He wanted to see if there were any differences.  You know, most of us do not have a Hollywood movie studio to use for these situations.  I pondered on this task and considered using TrialDirector first.  While you can play videos in different zones in TrialDirector’s Presentation mode, there is no way I could find to play them in synch at the same time.  I also tried a couple of video editors (Corel VideoStudio Pro and Camtasia) which I normally use to make clips.  Finally, I wondered about doing them in PowerPoint and discovered this was my answer for this project.  Here’s how I did it:

  1. Open PowerPoint
  2. Click on New Slide > Two Content
  3. In the left frame, insert your first video.
  4. In the right frame, insert your second video.
  5. Select each video and go to the Video Tools ribbon > Playback > change to start Automatically.
  6. Click on Animations > click on Play > select “With Previous” for Start for each video
  7. Test it by starting your slide show.  (Slide Show > From current slide)

To my surprise it worked and we were able to compare videos to find the inconsistencies.

 

Relativity: How to create a saved search

relativity

Let’s be honest – Relativity can be a bear sometimes.  User friendly?  Not so much.  Useful to manage large amounts of data?  Absolutely.

One of the things I have learned about Relativity that is helpful is how to create saved searches.  Saved searches are very useful when you run a search and don’t want to have to run it again each time you need it.  It is also helpful if you have other users also reviewing the database.

 

When you open your workspace to the database, click on the main documents folder:

R1

Next, click on the magnifying glass at the bottom to create a new search:

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Click on new search:

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Name the search:

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Go to Conditions and select the ISSUES field:

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Next, for operator, use any of these:

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Click on the ellipses button …

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Select the issue such as “Hot Docs”

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Click ADD button

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Your issue “Hot Docs” will move to Selected Items.  Select it.

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Click on SET button

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If you need to share with other in your review group, change the owner at the top to Public

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Click on Save and Search

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Relativity will now conduct your search and save it under the name you selected.

Since saved searches are executed in real-time, you save the search definition but not the results.  Relativity executes the search each time you click on it in the Saved Searches browser and when you return to it after performing other tasks in the workspace.  This ensures that only data meeting the search criteria is returned in the search results.

 

 

 

 

Tech Fixes In The Courtroom

One of my biggest fears is having something to go wrong in the courtroom.  I have learned that it doesn’t matter how much you practice in the office or conference that something is bound to go wrong when you set up in the courtroom.  Some times there is simply nothing you can do but here are a few fixes to keep in mind whih could help you in these situations:

no-input-signal

LAPTOP DISPLAY IS NOT SHOWING ON SCREEN

Once you have connected your laptop to the court’s presentation system, you see the display on your laptop but not on the courtroom screen(s).

Possible solutions:

  • Reboot the laptop.
  • Check the cable.  On more than one occasion I have discovered that one of the pins were bent or missing in the VGA cable.
  • Adjust the resolution.  Ask the Court IT staff what the resolution is on their projector/flat screen.
  • Toggle your display by pressing Windows Key + P.  This will show you the settings to duplicate or extend your display.
  • Make sure the Court’s equipment is set on the correct input for your laptop.

loud-audio-feedback-1080x597-1

FEEDBACK WHEN CONNECTING AUDIO CABLE

“What’s that noise?”

Court Reporters are very sensitive to sounds and understandably so since they have to transcribe what they hear during court.

Possible solutions:

  • Change cables
  • Use 2-prong adapter on power cord

PowerPoint-Lunch-Learn-Event-Image-700x350

POWERPOINT SLIDES WON’T FIT ON COURT DISPLAYS

Everything else is working fine but then someone tries to do a PowerPoint presentation for closing and they discover that the photos they put in their slides are not fitting on the screen.

Possible solutions:

  • Check the resolution.  Make sure it matches the Court’s projector or flat screen.
  • Check the cable.  Once again it could be a problem with a pin that is missing or bent on the VGA cable.
  • Make sure the user is in slide show mode

volume

CAN’T HEAR AUDIO BEING PLAYED ON LAPTOP

You have a recording to play and you can’t hear the audio.  No need to panic, try these first:

  • Check the volume on your laptop.
  • Make sure the audio cable is plugged into the correct jack.  In most cases it will be the headphone jack on your laptop.
  • Check the volume on the Court’s system

vga-techmehub

LAPTOP DISPLAY ON COURT’S SCREEN CONSTANTLY GOES OUT

You’ve got your laptop connected to the Court’s projector or flat screen but you experience intermittent outages.  Most laptops today are eliminating the VGA connection in favor of HDMI or Display Port (don’t get me started on the Display Port) but some laptops still have the VGA option but have eliminated the ability to screw in the cable.

  • Check to see that the VGA is securely connected to your laptop.   I recently attached velcro to both the cable and under the laptop to ensure the VGA would stay connected.
  • If the above doesn’t work, check the other end of the connection as well as the path the cable is taking to/from the laptop.  Believe it or not, sometimes someone on the legal team will put a box or something on the cable that could interfere.

There are other unique things that come up but these are some of the common issues I have experienced.  I don’t have to tell you how nerve wrecking it can be to experience problems in the courtroom.  It’s always good practice to get into the courtroom the day before your trial to set up everything and test it.  There have been many times that I had in my mind how something was going to work but when I actually got into the courtroom to test it out I discovered issues that I had time to resolve before trial.   One thing you can never assume is the availability of electrical outlets.  Yes even in 2018 some courtrooms are limited on availability to plug in our electronic devices.  Once I had to go to Lowe’s and purchase some extension cords and plugged under the judge’s bench so that we could have power to our devices.

Always test your equipment but always be ready in case something goes wrong.  The best way to be ready is to have spare cables, connectors and equipment in case you need to switch out on the fly.

Working With Watermarks In PDF Files

Using watermarks in PDF files is a way to secure or identify specific set of documents.  In many instances, it ensures that the wrong documents will not end up in the wrong hands.  A watermark is text or an image that appears either in front of or behind existing document content, like a stamp. For example, you could apply a “Confidential” watermark to pages with sensitive information. You can add multiple watermarks to one or more PDFs, but you must add each watermark separately. You can specify the page or range of pages on which each watermark appears.

I had an issue come up recently where our legal staff needed some guidance on how to work with watermarks in PDF files they were turning over in discovery.  They wanted a watermark that would not be recognized text or become a hit when searched.  They wanted the defendant’s name to be on the watermark but they did not want it to always show up as a hit when searched.

The first thing is to make the watermark an image file instead of a text file.

First, to create the image file:

  • Go to Microsoft PowerPoint
  • Type the name of the defendant (or whatever text you want to use on the watermark)
  • Save the PowerPoint slide as a JPEG file

watermarks

Once the image file has been created, to use it as the watermark:

  • Open the PDF file in Adobe Acrobat
  • Select EDIT PDF option
  • Click on Watermark
  • Select ADD
  • For the SOURCE, click on the FILE option
  • Click on BROWSE and locate the image file you created
  • For Location:  Click on option to Appear Behind Page so the watermark will not be on top of the text.
  • Click OK button
  • Save the file

The next obstacle thrown at me was the question of NOT showing the watermark on the screen but only when it was printed out.

Easy fix.

  • Go back to the watermark section under EDIT PDF
  • Select UPDATE
  • Now click on the Appearance Options link
  • Check the option to Show when printing
  • Un-check the option to Show when displaying on screen
  • Click OK button
  • Click OK button again
  • Save the file

Once you have created a watermark, you aren’t stuck with it.  You can go in and edit it or change it.  There are also many ways you can work with watermarks.  For more information on how to work with watermarks in PDF files, a simple Google search will put you in touch with the information.