LAW OFFICE COMPUTING
One of the most exciting aspects of modern desktop computer technology is the power that it confers on all of us to engage in the creation and manipulation of graphic images. Now I'm not talking about putting fancy shoes on O.J. Simpson's picture, although some of the software that is now readily available allows almost anyone to change and manipulate photographs. What I'm talking about is the ability to create trial exhibits of various kinds. Computer generated graphics can be displayed either by printing them out and putting them on traditional trial boards, or by using a monitor system or digital projector in the courtroom. Obviously, the simple monitor system is the least expensive to create and use, but in a jury trial, there is a tough call to make. Even the largest monitor may not be able to display fine type on a document or the minute details of a photograph. In some courtrooms, each juror is given a small monitor so they are able to see everything quite well but that is expensive to set up. In other courtrooms, several large monitors are deployed so that every juror is no more than a few feet away from a huge monitor. In the new eCourts, high quality digital thin screen monitors provide very high quality images to two jurors at a time. In courtrooms that are set up for it, however, a digital projector may still be the best solution because of the size of the image it can generate. The latest generation of digital projectors can produce a very bright image in a normally lit room and thus may quickly become the mechanism of choice for courtroom display technology. Obviously the projector can combine most of the benefits of a trial board without the cost and convenience of electronic files.
The four general categories of electronic exhibits are: 1) Word processing files displayed in their native format; 2) Scanned images of documents stored on the computer hard drive as "tiff" files; 3) Charts and graphs generated by graphing software or spreadsheet software; and, 4) Scanned images of photographs and drawings that are stored on the computer hard drive as "jpeg" or similar files. Recently, the popularity of digital cameras that can directly post photographs to a computer has exploded and we will see many digital photographs in the future. Video is quickly become a force in courtroom litigation but it is a large topic itself and will not be discussed here.
Any document created on a word processor can be displayed in the courtroom because the monitor or projector system is simply an extension of the computer desktop monitor. Thus outlines or even charts created by word processors are easily displayed and manipulated in the courtroom in the same way you would manipulate your word processor. As we move to a world of electronic discovery and remote filing we will work often with documents that have begun and lived their life as electronic documents never reduced to paper. These documents can be displayed on any electronic system without further ado.
Scanned Images Of Paper Documents And Photographs
With the advent of relatively high speed and inexpensive desktop scanners, the ability to scan documents into the computer to be used at trial has been greatly enhanced. There are two pieces of software that are far and away the best vehicles for scanning and displaying these documents at low cost. The first is Kodak Imaging Professional, which I have talked about many times in the past. Imaging Professional is an absolutely wonderful and powerful program for both scanning and displaying documents. Its display capabilities are very dramatic. You can circle words with bright colored lines, you can highlight words very easily as you would with a yellow marker, and you can zoom in on particular words with the greatest of ease. So, if you have a smoking gun document that contains a powerful admission by your opponent, you can highlight that admission and zoom in on it, blowing it up to the full size of the screen. Imaging Professional is very easy to use and costs less than $100. Download it from www.eastmansoftware.com.
PaperPort 7 is very inexpensive and it works with almost any scanner. PaperPort has very powerful tools for creating and manipulating photographs and similar images but it will allow you to scan or import documents that you can then pre-treat or annotate easily. PaperPort is not a terrific tool for display, however. It does have a free viewer and it will export tiff files that can then be viewed in other display software such as PowerPoint or Imaging Professional.† Itís greatest power, however, is with photos and objects. It has amazing capacity to correct color imbalance, crop, annotate and otherwise improve photographs. Objects such as a gun or bloody glove can be scanned and made ready for display with ease. Then you can drag and drop your pretreated images directly into PowerPoint for display and presentation. I canít live a full life without PaperPort. You can download a free trial version at www.scansoft.com or buy it outright for the princely sum of $59.00. It has several other amazing features that I will let you discover on your own. It is discussed more fully in the September 2000 Law Office Computing column.
Another important piece of document management software is Adobe Acrobat. Adobe Acrobat is essentially an electronic printer and you can put into it documents created in many different software environments. PaperPort prints very nicely to Adobe. Documents are stored as so-called "personal document files" or .pdf files.† In general, they are compressed and thus smaller files than the original. The .pdf file format is beginning to be widely used in industry because it permits almost anyone who has basic Acrobat Reader software (distributed freely over the Internet) to view and use Adobe Acrobat-based documents. Acrobat allows much control over the image including a very effective zoom mechanism. It has a good searching engine for text-based documents. Acrobat is quickly becoming the software of choice in the electronic filing field and may be worthy of your consideration. You can download it from www.adobe.com for $249 for the full package. You can also download free the Acrobat reader that allows you to read .pdf files but not create them.
Charts and graphs are extraordinarily easy to create on a computer. Essentially, all you have to do is to put the appropriate numbers into a chart and display that chart as a graph. One of the fascinating things about this graphing capability is that with most high-end spreadsheet programs, such as Paradox or Excel, you are able to graph the same data set in many different ways. What you find when you do that is that some graphs are far more effective than others, and indeed, you may, as you look at the different graphs, come to understand relationships between the constituent elements of the chart that you did not understand before. The same data set can be displayed as a bar chart, as a pie chart, or in a variety of other ways, and you can manipulate colors and shapes with ease. There are some standalone graphics programs that are quite good, but if you buy one of the standard office suites, such as Microsoft Office 2000 or Corel Office Suite 2002 you will get powerful graphing capabilities as a part of the Suite. Both Word 2000 and WordPerfect 10 have built in ability to create charts and graphs.
It is, of course, always important to have someone in your office who understands the graphics software very well. I think, however, that trial lawyers ought to be involved in the direct creation of trial exhibits. I think you will find that when you start to do it, it helps you develop and organize your case. Of course you can have someone else do it for you and if you have a big case with lots of documents and exhibits you should probably do that. But if you work with short trials with only a few hundred documents the investment of a few hundred dollars in PaperPort 7 and Kodak Imaging Professional will pay you back with your first trial. Besides, it is not hard to learn basic graphics software skills and I think every lawyer who uses a computer should do that now. It can actually make trial preparation fun, at least in part!