The Wall Street Journal reports today on the growing use of technology in trials. This raises an interesting point, an extension of my prior post about lawyer resistance to change.  

“Courtroom-Technology Firms Give Evidence State-of-the-Art Look” (WSJ, 5/26/04) reports that growing use of technology in court has “spawned an industry of tech firms revolutionizing the traditional courtroom with plasma screens, flat-panel monitors, and other sophisticated display devices.” Spurred by the Internet boom, more and more courts are wired to support computer use and display. The article reviews some of the pros and cons of computers in court.

I have always been a big believer in the visual display of information. I even wrote an article called “Practicing Law with Pictures” (published in an early edition of Law Technology News), but that was so long ago, I no longer have a digital version. It examined how even “still displays” could achieve great effect, both in and out of the court. Examples, all from actual cases at Wilmer Cutler, included a transaction flow-chart that finally allowed everyone to understand all the steps in a complicated sequence; a diagram of regulatory jurisdiction over banks that was widely credited with winning an argument on appeal; and a series of about 10 “stop sequence” schematic views of the final thirty seconds prior to a crash that was essential to letting a jury understood exactly what went wrong. The fact that I remember all these 10+ years later without anything to look at is a testament to the power of visuals over words.

PowerPoint may be overused and many displays may be (in the words of Edward Tufte) “chart junk,” but that does not diminish the value of visuals in or out of court. A dozen years ago Wilmer lawyers regularly used poster boards in court. Fancier display systems have been available for almost a decade. Why has it taken the profession so long to adopt?

I suspect that the main reason is another dimension of resistance to change (see my prior post, A New Approach to Control Outside Counsel Costs). Just as managing a case requires a different way of thinking than does arguing a case, visualizing it requires a different way of thinking than does writing about it. Lawyers who are not comfortable with visualizing should at least recognize this and be sure (whether for a trial or transaction) to have access to someone skilled in visual presentations. Technology here is merely a means to an end – the content is what counts.