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Williams & Montgomery finds conference center an advantage in the courtroom:

The conference center and the courtroom

How does a leading trial law firm prepare for the courtroom?

The answer today is tied closely to presentation technology, says David Boyd, partner at Williams & Montgomery Ltd. of Chicago.

The firm, with the help of United Visual, recently completed construction of a new multimedia conference center. The center serves as the focal point for major efforts in trial preparation, client conferencing, and training of attorneys and staff. "Law firms," says Boyd, "need to be client responsive, efficient and technologically advanced. This room enhances our ability to meet those objectives."

Multimedia and trial preparation

Presentation technology and trial lawyers have long had a close relationship. The attorney who can impress a jury with sound and visuals has some obvious advantages. Not as obvious, though, are some of the behind-the-scenes efforts that a law firm can make to prepare its cases. There are three major areas where Williams & Montgomery uses its multimedia center to give its lawyers an edge in the courtroom.

Witness preparation and mock trials.

In an important case, the firmís attorneys will try out strategies with stand-in juries. There are many variations on the mock trial concept, says Boyd, but "itís essentially a dry run. You bring in a jury, they listen to the arguments and you poll them afterward to see what was compelling." The multimedia center, with its built-in presentation and videotaping systems, makes such trials extremely useful.

 

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In many cases, the firm uses the room for shorter simulations, running witnesses through their testimony with an attorney doing direct and cross examinations. "We tape those too," says Boyd, "to give the witness a greater appreciation of the nuances of body language, diction and everything else that can have an impact upon a jury."

Training. Trial advocacy is important at Williams & Montgomery. Even though the associates they hire are highly educated, the firm frequently conducts courtroom skills seminars. Itís an effective way to pass the experience of successful partners on to new recruits. Topics of these seminars, according to Boyd, include how to take a deposition, how to argue motions in court, how to do cross examinationsó"the whole range of skills that are part of being a trial lawyer." The seminars include partial trials and full mock trials, all of which are videotaped for class analysis.

The firm also conducts extensive computer application training in the multimedia center. Thatís important because legal research at Williams & Montgomery is, for the most part, PC-based. The center has 16 desktop systems dedicated to training of attorneys and staff. The firm conducts frequent training sessions, ranging from word processing basics to use of the firmís CD-ROM library and the Lexis/Nexis on-line service for research.

Client conferencing. "Weíre involved in many cases," says Boyd, "that require a lot of interface with our clients." Chicago-based clients may be easy to meet with face-to-face, but the firm has a national trial practice. "We have one client," says Boyd, "for whom we conference regularly with managers in Connecticut, Chicago, and two or three other locations." The centerís videoconferencing system makes frequent meetings practical, allowing attorney and client to share documents, diagrams and face-to-face contact without the need to waste hour after hour in transport. The firm also uses the center for conferences with its offices outside of Chicago.

Naturally, in all of these situations, participants bring in the same AV support they would use in a courtroom: PC-generated visuals, professional animations, a document camera and videotaped depositions. "This is the television age," says Boyd. "Juries and judges all want things that vary the tempo and the visual impact of what they receive." Itís not just entertainment. "If youíre in a complicated case, you need visuals that will help them understand. And visual images reinforce memory as well as persuade. They help jurors understand your point and remember it all the way through to the verdict."

Obviously, visuals need to be tested and refined before they are used in court. A major advantage of the multimedia center is that attorneys can try out visuals in courtroom-like conditions, with clients, other attorneys and stand-in jurors present to give them feedback. "What this room gives us," says Boyd, "is a greater ability to strategize and anticipate the impact of what we use."