Technology in the Courtroom: An Opportunity for Young Lawyers to Shine

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By Hamutal G. Lieberman, Esq.

As a young lawyer, one of the most important things you can do is to bring value to your firm or company. Finding ways to bring value can feel daunting to a new lawyer who has not yet had significant legal training like his/her colleagues. However, as the legal profession continues to modernize, a new opportunity for young lawyers to shine has presented itself in the form of technology in the courtroom.

The Rise of Technology in the Courtroom

In recent years, a trend has emerged to modernize New York's State and Federal courtrooms to include a variety of technology to be utilized by attorneys and judges. Efforts have also been made to renovate courtrooms, where possible, to become more ADA accessible by expanding the jury box to allow access for a wheelchair and providing devices that allow hearing and visually impaired jurors to serve their civic duty. In an era where litigation costs are at an all-time high, New York courts have prioritized these changes. The mission of NYSBA's Committee on Technology and the Legal Profession, chaired by Mark Berman, is to make recommendations to provide technological changes to enhance the legal profession as well as bridge the "justice gap" by making litigation more efficient thereby reducing the overall cost. Imagine that a firm must pay for three or four junior attorneys to bring 30 boxes of trial exhibits to and from court every day for two weeks. Now imagine the money that could be saved if the attorney just brought a USB drive instead. In this scenario, the labor cost for moving the exhibits as well as the cost of putting together paper trial exhibits have both been eliminated saving the client a tremendous amount of money.

New York's Commercial Division has been at the forefront of implementing these changes. In January 2018, the Commercial Division of Westchester County became the first civil court in New York to implement what was called "Integrated Courtroom Technology" (ICT). Shortly thereafter, in October 2018, the courtroom technology was debuted in the courtroom of New York County Commercial Division Justice Saliann Scarpulla located at 60 Centre Street. Since then, several other Commercial Division (and other civil and criminal) courtrooms have incorporated the same technology. Just naming a few, other technology-fitted courtrooms include Queens County Commercial Division Justice Marguerite Grays and Westchester County Commercial and Matrimonial Division Justice Gretchen Walsh. Each courtroom is slightly different so that the technology can be customized to fit the configuration of each courtroom to be the most efficient and convenient for the attorneys and jury utilizing the technology.

The Equipment

The technology savvy or "smart courtrooms" are outfitted with a 83 inch smart board, a document camera/projector, a podium with a USB/HDMI port, various monitors on the attorney tables, in the jury box, witness stand and on the bench, and what is referred to as a "kiosk" used to speed up the check-in process during court appearances. A brief description of the equipment as well as examples for how to use the equipment follows.

Smart Board: The 83-inch smart board is the star of the show. This is the key focus and acts as the control panel of the entire system. The smart board can be utilized in a variety of ways depending on the goal of the presentation. It can act as a large projector connected to a laptop or tablet, or it can operate entirely independently using information stored on a USB drive brought by the attorney. If utilized as a projector, showing a video, photograph, chart or other significant piece of evidence to the judge or jury on an enlarged screen is much more effective than passing around a smaller paper version. If utilized independently, the smart board can be navigated as a touch screen or using a stylus. Documents can be manipulated by features such as highlighting, cut and paste, drawing and zooming in and out. After manipulating the document, you have the option to save it on the USB drive to be submitted to the judge and/or jury, or for your own records. The smart board can also be used as an electronic marker board and has a variety of different colored pens/markers that can be used to draw or highlight legal points to the judge or jury. Finally, the smart board has the capability to connect to a secured Wi-Fi network allowing the attorneys to link documents to the online docket or other secured websites.

USB/HDMI Equipped Podium: A USB/HDMI equipped podium allows the attorney to bring any type of device to connect to the smart board. As discussed above, the attorney wishing to utilize the smart board as a projector may simply opt to display a document from his or her laptop or tablet. Tablets with drawing capabilities may offer another solution for an attorney who feels more comfortable manipulating documents or audio/video files while holding the tablet. A tablet also gives an attorney more mobility while presenting to a judge or jury compared to using a laptop.

Monitors for Attorneys, Jury Box, Witness Stand and Judge: Smaller monitors are positioned throughout the courtroom on counsel's table, on the witness stand, in the jury box and on the judge's bench. This allows the other parties, witnesses, jury and the judge to clearly understand and follow the documents and other content discussed and presented to the court without confusion.

Document Camera: The document camera looks like an old-school projector and works together with the smart board. Some attorneys may elect to use this technology for documents that are too old or delicate to be scanned. Another functional use for the "document" camera is to present unique pieces of evidence such as a cell phone, a particular piece of machinery, or a pharmaceutical pill. Moreover, once projected onto the smart board, the attorney can take a picture of the device and then manipulate the picture using the same highlighting and drawing tools discussed above.

Kiosk: The kiosk, often placed in the entrance of the courtroom, is used to check-in to the courtroom, eliminating the need to check-in with the part clerk upon arrival. The attorney simply enters the index number of the case he or she is appearing on and the appropriate conference form is printed with the caption information prepopulated.

Skype Videoconferencing: In an effort to reduce travel fees, many courts with this technology are open to holding court conferences and witness examinations remotely. This is done by utilizing the Skype videoconferencing application on the smart board. If opposing counsel is located out-of-state, or a witness is particularly frail and making a trip to the courthouse is burdensome, consider using Skype.

Hearing and Visually Impaired Accommodations: The courtroom is outfitted with assistive listening technology for hearing impaired witnesses and jurors. This entails a special headset that is synced with the audio system installed in the courtroom which can be controlled by the individual to suit his or her needs. In addition, the smart board houses a program that reads any selected text through a computerized voice that is played through the state of the art sound system that can be utilized to assist a visually impaired person.

Knowing how to use and maximize the courtroom technology to emphasize key pieces of evidence in a trial, oral argument or videoconference will provide significant value to a partner, counsel or senior associate who will most likely be focusing on the substantive part of the project. Offering to handle the technology aspects including making sure that documents are formatted correctly and coordinating with the judge's part clerk to make sure you or your colleague can come practice using the technology will undoubtedly allow a young associate to shine.

In an interactive CLE, the NYSBA's Committee on Technology and the Legal Profession has presented on how to use the courtroom technology. A filmed recording of this CLE is available for purchase at https://www.nysba.org/store/detail.aspx?id=VGC54 if you would like a step by step tutorial regarding the equipment.

Practice Tips

To that end, it is important to thoroughly review a judge's individual part rules to see whether he or she has any specific rules relating to the use of courtroom technology or other electronic formatting requirements. Many of the Commercial Division Judges are particularly requesting that technology be utilized more and paper documents less. For example, Justice Scarpulla maintains an entirely paperless courtroom. This means that all documents are to be electronically filed and that any exhibits or other documents that an attorney would like her to review must be provided on a USB drive.

Moreover, New York County Commercial Division's Justice Borrok has a handful of technology-related rules to be used in his courtroom. For example, Justice Borrok requires that all trial documents including marked pleadings, prior decisions, notices to admit and deposition transcripts be provided on a flash drive. He also requires strict adherence to the Commercial Division Rule 6 that all briefs "shall include bookmarks providing a listing of the document's contents" and "strongly encourages" the use of hyperlinks within documents submitted to the court. In fact, following the lead of several federal courts, the Commercial Division Advisory Council recently proposed an amendment to Commercial Division Rule 6 mandating hyperlinks in all legal memoranda.

The implementation of technology in the courtroom is well under way. Young attorneys should use this opportunity to stay informed of the changes and take the lead on technologically related projects as a way to prove their value to their colleagues.

Hamutal G. Lieberman is a Senior Associate at Zumpano Patricios & Popok, the New York office of the firm. Her practice focuses on commercial litigation, trials, arbitrations, and appeals in the areas of business, employment, real estate and construction, financial services, and securities. She also focuses on representing global financial institutions, broker-dealers and securities professionals in connection with investment disputes and employment actions (including discrimination/harassment, wrongful termination, non-compete clauses, trade secrets, compensation disputes, and promissory notes).

Ms. Lieberman further focuses her practice on litigation arising out of corporate dissolution proceedings, contested stock valuations, derivative claims, and other business disputes among owners of closely held entities, including hedge and private equity funds, professional corporations and family-owned companies.

In addition, Ms. Lieberman has experience in intellectual property litigation matters involving trademark, copyright, trade dress, false advertising, licensing, UDRP (Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy) and DMCA (Digital Millennium Copyright Act) violations, as well as proceedings before the U.S. Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) for clients in the fashion, technology, hospitality, media and consumer goods industries.

Fluent in Hebrew, she maintains close ties with Israel, bringing added value to her law practice.

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This page contains a single entry by Julie Houth published on February 21, 2020 12:00 AM.

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