Five Tools Every “Hot-Seat” Operator Should Own

by: Devin Cegelis

I have found that in my experience as a Trial Consultant, there are five types of tools that every “hot-seat” operator should have in order to be effective in the courtroom. These tools will assist you in managing (and eventually presenting) the typical case data an attorney throws in your direction. Just like a doctor has different tools for different procedures, a trial presentation specialist may utilize more than one tool to manage their case data.

Before we start working with presentation software, our files must be in a proper file format. It is a good idea to make sure that your case data is in a standardized, universal format that can be used in a variety of applications. For scanned images and documents, that format is typically either the TIFF or PDF format. As for media, the file type that tends to cause the least amount of issues is MPEG-1. If your discovery contains files in other formats, conversion software can be used to standardize the files.

For converting image/document type files, which may still be in a native format like Microsoft Word or Microsoft Excel, I like to use a bulk TIFF/PDF converter. This type of utility allows me to simply drag and drop my images and native files into the queue, select my output options, hit start, and voila! My files are now in a standardized format.

Media files can be converted in a similar fashion using encoding software. I have worked with many who have told me “My videos play fine on one computer, but do not play on another”. This issue is likely due to not having the correct codecs installed. Instead of installing codec packs on each machine, simply convert your videos to the industry standard MPEG-1 format.

In order to create a pristine trial exhibit database, one must incorporate a standardized naming convention for their case items. These naming conventions should typically reflect bates numbering formats, or a trial exhibit numbers. In either instance, renaming individual files will be too time-consuming. Bulk renaming utilities can be used to rename an unlimited number of files at once based on a set naming scheme.

Once we’ve properly formatted and named our files, we need to choose our method of presentation. Presentation software can be classified into two categories, nonlinear and linear (storyboard based), each having its own place when it comes to presenting in a courtroom.

Nonlinear based presentation tools allow the user to display different exhibit type items at a moment’s notice, in addition to working from pre-set presentations. They are designed for the dynamic environment of a courtroom, specifically during witness examinations. Users can quickly adapt to the testimony of a witness or a ruling by the judge. In addition to instant access to any case item loaded into the database, users can enlarge and markup case items in real-time.

Linear, or storyboard based presentations, still have a place in the courtroom. This is when there is a need to present items in a particular order, such as an opening statement or closing argument. While still useful to a trial presentation specialist in these situations, there are a few disadvantages to consider, including the limited number of annotation capabilities and not being able to adapt to changes you encounter.

With these tools on hand and the correct planning, you should be well prepared for any matter that will require evidence presentation.