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The Changing Face Of “Documents” In Criminal Defense Law | Part One

The attorney is at the podium. They are a criminal defense attorney. They look up at the jury and then down to their notes. But what they are really doing is plugging in their iPad or Kindle or even their cell phone. Suddenly the first presentation piece is projected for all in the courtroom to see. From traffic tickets to murder trials to complex civil litigation (sometimes comprising millions of documents) technology in the courtroom has become not just an option but a requirement. Managing and presenting documents has become a central issue in case management.

But the face of technology is scary. Any law firm has a story about the failure of technology at a crucial stage of a trial or a lost or corrupted database of case documents. But the cost of running two parallel cases of “hard copy” documents and evidence and “electronic” documents can be prohibitive. Lawyers have to choose.

The Crowley Law Firm and its website Best Seattle Criminal Defense Attorneys have made huge leaps in its technological infrastructure in the past year. Employing best practices in electronic storage, retrieval and document management allows the firm the ability to do what it does best: practice law. Good litigation support or clever presentation will not trump good law practice, but courts and juries and now clients expect to see some level of technology employed in the prosecution or defense or their case. It can be done but flexibility, organization, preparation and PRACTICE can have a major impact on the successful outcome of a case. Especially in criminal defense there is more than money at stake.

We once saw in a major civil case tried in a federal district court (regarded as “complex” litigation with multiple parties and a quarter million pages of documents and deposition transcripts) a paralegal show up with a virgin copy of a litigation software and attempt to begin loading it with information on the first day of trial. Someone had made a decision just before trial that some technology was in order. Too late. As the case proceeded for over a month we watched the paralegal and their attorneys struggle to make this complex litigation software do their bidding. It didn’t fail. They failed. Preparation not magic bullets.

Early on in a case the decisions need to be made. Deposition digests or a powerful transcript digester? Hundreds of doc boxes or a share able Adobe Acrobat index? Trial notebooks compiled by hand or an ongoing process of identifying and preparing for presentation of their electronic equivalent printed out on demand? Will our trial exhibits flash across the screen of a high def 50 inch television screen or be fumbled onto an Elmo, or worse, standing on a foam core board in the corner?

Our litigation support people tell us it is often as much an art as a science. Loading 50,000 pages of images or pdfs and making them as searchable can identify trends and aspects in a case far more quickly than a traditional document review. Do you still have to read everything? Of course. But it is the endless duplication of work that costs time and money in a case. There are ways and ways. Be nimble but use the right stuff — and practice, practice practice before you show up in court or mediation.

Best Seattle Defense Attorneys and The Crowley Law Firm believe in the electronic approach to case construction. It is faster and saves money. It’s a fact. The jury is already in on that. In Part Two we will look at some of the hardware and software solutions which give even small firms an edge in court.