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At A2L Consulting, we have been providing trial technicians (also known as hot-seat operators) to help our clients display materials at trial since the 1990s. The role of a trial technician is a unique one. These men and women routinely work late nights during a trial to ensure that they are totally prepared for whatever can arise. As we have said elsewhere on this blog, the ideal hot-seat operator must have a very close working relationship with the lead trial attorney and with the other team members, must have a calm demeanor in case he or she is called upon with no notice to provide something critical for the trial, and must have an understanding of the thousands of documents that will inevitably be involved in any trial. Most importantly, he or she must be able to make the trial presentation appear to be seamless and flawless. We have seen instances in which opposing counsel, or their hot-seat operator, stumbled in one respect or another – and their credibility took a dive. We have written in articles like What a Great “Hot Seat Operator” Can Add to a Trial Team and 12 Tips to Hire the Right Trial Technician for Your Trial about the ideal qualities for a hot-seat operator. We've even released a free book on the topic called How To Find and Use Trial Technicians and Trial Technology. Click here to download it. One thing that we perhaps have not discussed as much as we should is that a great hot-seat operator must, from the beginning, become totally conversant with the technology available in the specific courtroom in which he or she will be working. And there are substantial differences: Some courtrooms have expensive, built-in technology that is state of the art. Some will have excellent technology – if this were the year 2003. Some have no technology at all. It is the responsibility of the trial team, and of the hot-seat operator above all, to design an appropriate, modern technology set-up for the courtroom that will serve the paramount goal of persuading the jury. Below we have prepared what should be a very useful directory of the technology available in the 90 federal district courts across the nation and we have linked to each of the courts’ websites.

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The Top 10 Litigation Articles of 2018

It's my eighth year writing an end-of-year top-10 style article. That feels pretty great because in that time, we have published more than 600 articles and A2L's Litigation Consulting Report blog has been visited one million times. Wow, right?

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There are so many legal industry "best of" surveys that I have a hard time keeping track of them. Just about every month in one of them A2L is voted the top firm in either jury consulting, litigation graphics consulting, litigation consulting, or for our trial tech/hot seat services.    I am grateful for our clients and blog readers who take the time to help and vote for us. It is a very big deal for me to see the company I helped build these past 24 years be recognized. While I know our people are the best at what they do, it is still it's nice to hear other people say it too.   In a sea of surveys, one rises above the rest — The annual Best of the National Law Journal.   A2L has been named #1 in this NLJ survey before. Today, I'm asking a favor of our readers.   Would you help us be voted #1 in the nation again? It takes 2 minutes to help us be (publicly) recognized as the nation's top litigation consulting firm.     We are nominated in four categories. Here's how you vote: Go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/BestofNLJ2019 before November 1, 2018 Answer at least questions 11, 55, 58 & 59 Click through the next buttons until you click DONE.                        

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At A2L, we work on many disputes and trials of various types and sizes. Before starting work, we routinely provide our customers with estimates of what we think it will cost to engage us to conduct a mock trial, prepare trial presentations, assist in the development of the opening statement, and run the courtroom technology.   While it’s never easy to estimate the final costs of fast-moving complex litigation, it's something that firms like ours and large law firms do every day. We've been doing it for 24 years, and we've even pioneered some innovative pricing strategies for litigation graphics and trial tech work. However, I've noticed two schools of thought when it comes to estimating, and one of them seems to lead to better outcomes.   In shorthand, I'll call these two methods a top-down method and a bottom-up method. In my experience, the top-down method leads to more successful engagements, more wins, and much better and trusting relationships.  

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Trial Lawyers, Relinquish the Clicker

It’s a phenomenon that I’ve seen countless times – renowned first-chair trial lawyers seeking to maintain hands-on control of their trial presentation by literally holding on to the clicker. Unfortunately, despite these lawyers’ sometimes desperate efforts to keep control, something almost always goes wrong in these situations. For example, lawyers can lose track of their place and get ahead of their presentation in PowerPoint or another form of presentation software. They can try to go back a slide or two and find that they can’t get back. They can even click around so wildly that they crash the software during an opening statement. As one can imagine, these scenarios can lead to a cascading meltdown for the presenter, who can become increasingly flustered. I’ve seen trial lawyers stop using their presentation software just because of an unanticipated “clicker crisis.” This level of crisis can be highly destabilizing for the lawyer’s team, as the lawyer’s frustration can spill over to the judge and jury. It can cause an immediate lack of credibility. At the very least, it can create distance between the trial team and the judge or jury, just at the moment when the team should be building rapport. The solution is remarkably simple. In a recent article, I wrote about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s presentation concerning Iran’s nuclear capabilities. If you watched Netanyahu for even a few seconds, you noticed that he wasn’t controlling a clicker. He looked prepared, confident and convincing – and one reason for that is that he used the political equivalent of a trial tech or hot-seat operator to take charge of the clicker.

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I've written about people who present well using PowerPoint many times before. Some of those articles include: President Obama: Presentation Graphics: Why The President Is Better Than You Law Professor Lawrence Lessig: Lawyer Delivers Excellent PowerPoint Presentation Dan Pink: Dan Pink, Pixar, and Storytelling for the Courtroom Nancy Duarte: Litigators Can Learn a Lot About Trial Presentation from Nancy Duarte Scott Harrison: Every Litigator Should Watch Scott Harrison Deliver This Presentation Me: 21 Steps I Took For Great Public Speaking Results Each of these articles offered some useful lessons both in designing good trial presentations and in the art of presentation. Yesterday, the world saw one of the great PowerPoint presentations of all time. If it were given in a courtroom, this presentation would be in the top one percent of courtroom presentations (not for beauty but for effectiveness). However, this presentation was not in a courtroom at all. Still, which famed trial lawyer do you imagine gave this presentation? As the title suggests, it wasn’t a trial lawyer at all. The presentation was delivered by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  If you don't agree with the man or the content, put aside your politics and learn from the presentation. Every trial lawyer should do AT LEAST this well in the courtroom. There are few excuses not to, and every client should demand a performance at this level. If you have (or are) a client who understands the outsized value of investing in the most critical presentations of your case, our team can get you to this level. Every time. This is exactly the kind of work we do with the world's top trial lawyers every day. Watch all or some of Prime Minister Netanyahu's presentation and read my commentary on it below to understand why this presentation is so effective and how any trial lawyer can learn from it. The list of things done right in this presentation is very long. Let's look at a handful, and I will link back to an article where we made these recommendations. Each of these underlying teachings is a technique that our litigation consultants use to help coach trial lawyers and maximize their chance of winning.  He looks the part: 10 Things Litigators Can Learn From Newscasters He chose the right tie: Litigation Graphics, Psychology and Color Meaning He delivers on all five of these promises: 5 Things Every Jury Needs From You He establishes a clear narrative and drama early: Are You Smarter Than a Soap Opera Writer? He uses an immersive style: New Study: A Graphically Immersive Trial Presentation Works Best He uses surprise to engage and persuade: Could Surprise Be One of Your Best Visual Persuasion Tools? Persuasive images are used immediately: Persuasive Graphics: How Pictures Are Increasingly Influencing You The use of deposition-like video is brilliant for setting the stage: 6 Tips for Effectively Using Video Depositions at Trial He presents in a modern 16x9 format (like an HDTV not an old tube TV): Free Webinar: PowerPoint Litigation Graphics - Winning by Design™ He does not talk over the messages: 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations Captioning is well handled on videos: 6 Tips for Effectively Using Video Depositions at Trial He is very practiced: The Magic of a 30:1 Presentation Preparation Ratio The core opening introductory message is clear and compelling: How to Structure Your Next Speech, Opening Statement or Presentation Netanyahu used a hot seater: What a Great “Hot Seat Operator” Can Add to a Trial Team The theatrics in the form of the binders and the CDs are just brilliant: Using Scale Models as Demonstrative Evidence - a Winning Trial Tactic The level of preparation is clear and is what is expected of elite presenters - even by juries: Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well The hand gestures are well done: 5 Things TED Talks Can Teach Us About Opening Statements The call outs are simple and excellent: 3 Styles of Document Call-outs Used at Trial The translating of scale and size into terms people understand is clear and convincing: 6 Ways to Convey Size and Scale to a Jury You don't have to read Farsi to understand the nuclear materials, he says: Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That? He makes limited use of bullet points: 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere) He organizes his message into five points and enumerates on the slides: Litigation Graphics: The Power of Checklist Trial Exhibits He uses limited text on slides throughout the presentation!: How Much Text on a PowerPoint Slide is Too Much? His slides are clean, uncluttered and generally have a single message: 12 Ways to Eliminate "But I Need Everything On That PowerPoint Slide" He includes animated graphics: 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint He contrasts what the Iranians said vs. the reality and deploys other credibility attacks in one evidence-backed attack after another: Like It or Not: Likability Counts for Credibility in the Courtroom He tells you what to conclude: Your Trial Presentation Must Answer: Why Are You Telling Me That? He repeats (language and video) for effect and clarity: A Surprising New Reason to Repeat Yourself at Trial His use of storytelling throughout the presentation is excellent: 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 2 He makes NONE of the 12 mistakes in this article: The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make He has been well coached by presentation consultants like us: Your Coach Is Not Better Than You – in the Courtroom or Elsewhere Nothing about this PowerPoint presentation is particularly sophisticated. In fact, there are many things that could be done to make it considerably better and more persuasive. However, above all else, it shows what a well-practiced presenter can do. VERY few trial lawyers prepare to the point where they can present at this level and if they would work more closely with elite litigation consultants, whether A2L's litigation consultants (pdf) or others, they could do even better than Benjamin Netanyahu. Here's the ultimate takeaway: it's not some innate gift that helps a presenter be world-class. Instead, it's the humility that allows someone to practice over and over getting these critical presentations just right that makes anyone appear to be world-class.

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Rapport, or lack of it, between a first-chair attorney, who is in charge of a trial presentation, and his or her trial tech can make or break a case. When this rapport exists, the result is akin to a well-choreographed ballet, a perfectly orchestrated symphony performance, or a beautifully planned newscast. Everything happens on time and on cue. There are no pregnant pauses, and visuals feel as if they support what is being said by the lawyer, rather than being used as a reminder to tell the lawyer what to say. When this relationship is not perfect, the trial presentation can feel like watching a streaming online movie that is constantly pausing to be buffered. When a presentation has not been sufficiently practiced between a first-chair attorney and a trial tech, you will see missed timing, flustered attorneys and a general unease that does not have to be there. Trial techs, of course, are the people whose job is to ensure that content flows in a smooth, pre-scripted fashion, making the trial lawyer look like a polished presenter. The trial tech controls the electronic presentation in court, brings in the evidence at just the right time, and plays audio and video of depositions in a way that helps the judge and jury appreciate and understand the case. A good trial tech, as I have said before, frees the lawyers and the litigation consultants to marshal the witnesses and the evidence to tell a compelling story. A great trial tech produces that seamless result. Some litigation graphics consultants can have only a limited interaction with the first-chair lawyer, and the trial can still be a success. That cannot be true of the relationship between the top lawyer and the trial tech. That must be outstanding. How can you make sure it becomes outstanding and stays that way?

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The trial technician, sometimes called the hot-seater, is the person who runs the courtroom technology so that a trial team does not have to do so. A trial tech typically uses programs like Trial Director to manage thousands of exhibits and has each at the ready to be displayed and highlighted. During opening, closing, and expert testimony, the trial tech runs the PowerPoint system to ensure flawless and well-choreographed presentations. The benefit of using a trial technician is that the trial team can focus on the law and the facts and can concentrate on connecting with the judge and jury rather than having to worry about the technology. When the relationship between trial counsel and the trial tech is smooth and well-rehearsed, the presentation looks like a perfectly planned and executed professional live production. We have been deploying trial technicians around the country for trials long and short for the past three decades. We were even sending out trial techs before PowerPoint was being used in the courtroom and when the preferred format for electronic evidence handling was the laser disk. In this time, we have employed dozens of trial techs and have learned what makes a good one and what kind of preparation equals success. Here are 12 tips for finding just the right technician: 1. Experience is everything. Our techs usually have a dozen or more major trials under their belts. Some have been to trial hundreds of times. They also routinely run the technology at hearings and during arbitrations/mediations. See, With So Few Trials, Where Do You Find Trial Experience Now? 2. The first-chair attorney must be willing to practice with them. There is no substitute for practice and preparation in the courtroom. The great trial lawyers practice frequently so that the trial looks flawless. See Practice, Say Jury Consultants, is Why Movie Lawyers Perform So Well. 3. They have war stories galore - particularly in overcoming problems. Courtrooms are not usually state of the art, so much of the technology must be brought in or enhanced. Otherwise, jurors are left wondering why their own living rooms and work conference rooms are much more advanced than what your trial team is providing. Great trial techs have overcome hundreds of small issues in a trial. See 12 Ways to Avoid a Trial Technology Superbowl-style Courtroom Blackout.

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