LAW OFFICE COMPUTING
My Three Odysseys
I have recently embarked upon my third odyssey, a search driven by the sudden availability of some 35 or 40 electronic courtrooms in Arizona. My third odyssey is beginning pretty late in life but like the other two I have little doubt that it will be exciting and very fulfilling.
My childhood was an odyssey filled with cars and motorcycles and cameras. In my early twenties I was a photojournalist who went to law school and became an academic where I toiled in the university vineyard for some 20 years. Technology was in the past. I was a writer of briefs and law review articles. I taught generations of lawyers about civil procedure and federal courts. I was content. Then about 10 years ago I received a the telephone call from the late Judge Richard Bilby regarding a trial that was taking place in his courtroom in the federal courthouse in Tucson. The case was a civil action arising out of the collapse of the Charlie Keating Empire and involved hundreds of thousands of documents and a number of videotaped depositions. It was a very interesting case in all events, but it was made much more interesting by virtue of the fact that it brought into the courtroom what was then totally new and innovative technological support. Judge Bilby told me that the parties had invested several hundred thousand dollars in the equipment that was then installed in his courtroom and he thought I would be interested in seeing it. I had just started using computers on a regular basis and I was fascinated by their potential application to the practice of law in general and in litigation in particular. So I eagerly accepted Judge Bilby’s invitation for lunch and wandered downtown to see his courtroom. The tech guys were just finishing up the installation of two huge monitors and the bar code driven document display system. When they demonstrated how a bar code swipe brought up an image of a document on the 5 ft. wide rear projection monitor I was hooked. When the tech guy started highlighting portions of the document with the electronic pen I was in love. And, when she demonstrated the way videotaped depositions might appear to the jury my heart just stopped. “This is very good stuff”, I thought to myself, “this is the future of litigation.” The seeds of the Courtroom of the Future project were planted that day in Judge Bilby’s courtroom and began the second leg of my technological odyssey. Over the course of the next year I spent a very high percentage of my time trying to figure out a way to make that technology affordable so that it could be used in ordinary cases. I visited with Judge Strand in Phoenix who was as fascinated as I was by the potential and it was in his courtroom that I first learned from Marilyn Sanchez about real time court reporting and its great potential. Desktop scanners were a new product and inexpensive software for displaying images of documents in an effective manner did not exist. Then a friend of mine returned from Comdex with a floppy disk containing a piece of software called Watermark. Watermark provided a simple user-friendly system for scanning and displaying documents. Text could be highlighted and zoomed into and annotations such as underlining and circles were easy to do. With a simple scanner and Watermark I found myself on the road to the courtroom of the future. But while the manipulation and annotation of documents on the computer itself was fairly easy, the display of those images to an entire courtroom was hard. The monitors in Judge Bilby's courtroom were not portable and they were huge. Few courtrooms in the state courts were large enough to accommodate them. I had to find a way to display the document images in small courtrooms. It was then that I discovered digital projection technology. By coupling a laptop computer and a VCR to a digital projector I was able to overcome the space limitations imposed by ordinary courtrooms. I had an idea and I had a plan. Now what I needed was money. The University had just created a special grant program that looked perfect for my project. I was certain they would love both my idea and my plan. I made an application for $35,000, which was rejected out of hand. I went to the Dean but there was no money to be had. I decided to take my idea to private enterprise instead because I thought I could get some donations of equipment if I could provide some good PR for the manufacturers. I knew the manufacturers were not interested in donating equipment to me or to the law school itself and so I went to back to Dean Tom Sullivan and asked him to allow me to create the Courtroom of the Future project as a vehicle for seeking contributions of money and equipment. Tom was a former trial lawyer and he was enthusiastic about my project. He authorized its establishment and even scrounged up a few thousand dollars to get my fund raising off the ground. Over the course of the next year I was able to secure over $100,000 worth of equipment and software for the project. In 1995 we inaugurated the Courtroom the Future Project by holding a three-day national conference on courtroom technology. We attracted an all-star cast of presenters and 150 judges, lawyers and court administrators from around the country. We started to get a lot of recognition including a cover story in California legal magazine. It was only a matter of time, I thought, before courtrooms all over the country would be equipped like ours. I was right but I had no idea how long it would take. Part of the problem was money and the realities of the budgeting process. The second part of the problem arose from the fact that the technology for displaying images was in its still in infancy. Monitors were small and hard to read documents on and projectors were expensive and not very bright. Over the next few years, the technology improved tremendously and the price of that technology became affordable. Equally important was the fact that farsighted court administrators began building into the budgeting process money for building electronic or rooms. Those three factors have now joined together to create the nearly 40 electronic courtrooms that will be online in Arizona by spring. The process that I thought would take a year so has in fact taken five years. But in a sense the delay turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The display technology that you will see in the new courtrooms is so vastly superior to what was available only a year or so ago that it turns out that we were fortunate to have avoided heavy investment in technology that we would now want to replace. The display technology installed in our new courtrooms may be eclipsed by new technologies in a few years, but it is so good that it will be usable for a very long time to come.
All of this brings me to once again refocus my career and begin my final odyssey. A year ago negotiation with University allowed me to go halftime so I could pursue the opportunity to develop courtroom-oriented programs in the private sector. Last summer I reached an agreement with Lex Solutio Corp. in Phoenix to become their general counsel and director of education on a halftime basis. So now I have the best of both worlds. We are training our law students in the use of electronic courtrooms and I have the opportunity to reach out to the bar with training programs specifically tailored to their needs. The field is in state of tremendous growth. The number of lawyers using digital imaging to support trial preparation is growing exponentially. The software for building those trial support systems has matured and has become affordable. The hardware for displaying and annotating digital images has reached a high level of functionality.
Over the course of the coming months we will provide a number of opportunities to become acquainted with our new courtrooms. The Courtroom of the Future Project will sponsor a court technology demonstration and training site at the ABA TechShow in March. As always our focus will be upon affordable technology that is easy to use. The Maricopa County Superior Court has a committee actively working on the development of various kinds of training programs. The Trial Practice Section of the Arizona State Bar will present a demonstration of the primary courtroom presentation tools at the Annual Convention and one day of the CLE by the Sea Program will be devoted to the new courtrooms. Lex Solutio Corporation in Phoenix and InData in Gilbert are opening new training facilities that will focus on both trial preparation and presentation. And with all of this, I start my third career. I am excited about the possibilities and with the strong support of the private sector I look forward to doing what academic economics have kept me from doing in the last few years.