Alexandria Firm Courts Lawyers by Proving Animation Computes
November 25, 1996
By Anne Marriott The Washington Times
Kenneth Lopez knew when he graduated from Delaware's Widener University School of Law in May 1995 that lawyers make money. But after talking to Tyrone D. Taylor, a friend and computer animator, he decided he could make more in the legal-support business.
With a $50,000 investment, Mr. Lopez, Mr. Taylor and Lawrence J. Acchione created Animators at Law. The Alexandria-based computer animation company designs electronic presentations for use in court.
"The goal is to be able to explain everything at a sixth-grade level," Mr. Lopez said. That's where the 28-year-old lawyer comes in.
Because of his legal education, Mr. Lopez can take the information his clients give him about a particular case and highlight the key points of an argument for the animators. They take the information and design a graphic that will appeal to the jury, such as a computer re-creation of a traffic accident. Jurors are 650 percent more likely to retain information when oral arguments are combined with visual presentations during a trial, according to the American Bar Association.
Computer animation is a $200 million to $300 million industry. With fewer than 1 percent of U.S. Lawyers using the technology, and no more than 5 percent expected to rely on animation by 2000, Mr. Lopez said he expects plenty of room for growth in the industry for decades to come.
"This is the little Silicon Valley, and it's going to continue to be that way," he said about landing jobs for intellectual-property lawyers throughout the Washington area the next few years.
Animators at Law expects revenues this year of $100,000 to $200,000. Mr. Lopez is looking for sales to double next year and to keep growing for the foreseeable future.
"I want to be huge," he said. "The work is out there. It's just a matter of getting our name out there."
As the cost of computer animation drops, more lawyers will realize the advantages of high tech assistance in the courtroom, Mr. Lopez said. Some elementary animation can be done on a $5,000 computer. But most of his projects require $30,0000 models - the kinds used to create the special effects in the movies "Twister" and "Jurassic Park."
"We have the same kind of talent. We just focus it in a different direction," he said.
Prices for computer animation have dropped significantly since its mainstream debut in the late 1980s. At that time, the cost of using the technology for court cases was around $50,000.
Today, most animation jobs by Animators at Law cost about $10,000, although prices start at $1,500 and can reach $150,000. Clients pay about $500 for each day of work, Mr. Lopez said. While the company advertises occasionally through the Legal Times and the National Law Journal, most of its marketing is done through direct-mail solicitations aimed at the area's intellectual property lawyers.
"Everybody's really trying to grab people's attention," said Mr. Lopez, adding that he expects Animators at Law to design more print and television advertising for law firms in the future.
Leading companies within the industry include Engineering Animation in Ames, Iowa, a $10 million business, and Failure Analysis, a California based company that has an office in Alexandria.
Some law firms that regularly use high-tech designs have created in-house animation departments, but Mr. Lopez said he's not worried.
"There is some advantage to bringing some of this in house," he said. "But I would get worried that some of your people would get stagnant" from repeatedly doing the same thing.
As the industry grows, the company may add an office in New York City to be closer to its clientèle north of the District.
The company probably also will continue to work as a partner with such firms as Trial Behavior Consulting, a San Francisco company that specializes in designing the "ideal courtroom setting" for lawyers - including helping them choose the best jurors from the pool and telling them what graphics will be most effective.
"But, ideally, I want to do only animation," Mr. Lopez said. "I want to be the company doing computer animation."