By David Swanner
The tagline of my weblog is ‘Using Technology to be a better Trial Lawyer’. While I am a gadget freak, this does not mean that using gadgets and tech toys will make you a better trial lawyer. Matt Buchanan of Promote the Progress wrote a great post on gadgets are not the answer. Here are the Top 12 ways I feel that technology can make you a better trial lawyer:
- Use Listservs to Stay on Top of the Law – As much as I love weblogs, I love listservs even more. The ability to send a single e-mail and have it go out to 500 trial lawyers in the state, is a magical thing. If you have questions on case law, insurance coverage, defense attorneys, experts, judges, practice management or just need to vent you can get answers. For South Carolina trial lawyers the South Carolina Trial Lawyers Association listserv is great. In addition to your state TLA, check out the ATLA listservs and the San Antonio Trial Lawyers listserv which is considered one of the best in the country.
- Use Weblogs and Internet Searches for Trial Techniques and Tips - Both Evan’s Illinois Trial Practice and my South Carolina Trial Law collect trial techniques and tips. There aren’t a lot of plaintiff oriented trial weblogs yet, but there are a lot of great articles on the internet from attorneys all over the country. If you don’t see Evan or I talking about what you want to know about, do a search for the information.
- Use Software for Trial Preparation – Use programs like CaseMap to nail down the details of your case. CaseMap allows you to enter all of the people, places and things about your case. You identify the elements of your causes of action and then link your facts to the causes of action. You can then sort the information by cause of action to see exactly how you will prove each element, or by witness to produce an automatic witness outline to show what you will prove with that witness. Dennis Kennedy explains CaseMap in more detail in this ABA Law Practice Today article. For the more free-thinking minded (yeah, that’s common in lawyers) you can try MindManager mindmapping software. Promote the Progress and Inc. tell more about the mindmapping software.
- Use Trial Presentation Software to Present Information – Sanction and Trial Director are the top of their class. They allow you to show video depositions without editing, present documents and photographs. The programs allow you to highlight, zoom in and draw arrows to any piece of evidence. The great thing about this software is that it can be done on the fly, instead of a pre-set order like on PowerPoint. The other great thing is with video-depositions. You can put in the page and line numbers just like you would a deposition designation and the video will play only that section of the deposition. Neat, neat stuff.
- Use Software for Demonstrative Exhibits – TimeMap and Timeline Express are two great programs that generate timelines. Keyhole allows you to use aerial photography by typing in the street address of the area you want. MindManager, which I mentioned above, can also simplify complex relationships and show them in easy to understand graphical format. One of the nice things about MindManager is that you can portray your information with different colors and different ‘levels’ so you can start off with the basics and work your way down to the details. Done properly, you can make very complex information easy to understand. You can also use a wide format printer to print your own exhibits inexpensively.
- Use the Internet for Research on Injuries and Defendants – Accurint is a great source of information on people. We can get as much from a $5 search as we were getting from $100 investigator searches. Check out the background of your defendant. Research your injury. With Google having an image search, this makes our job a lot easier. Jerry Lawson at Netlawblog explains how to do an image search. Research the product, the defendant, the injury and anything else regarding the case. The internet is a free ice cream shop. Grab a scoop and dig in.
- Use Software for Increased Efficiency – Activewords allows you to turn anything into a shortcut and/or a hotkey. Al Nye the Lawyer Guy did a great review explaining ActiveWords. Notemap is an outlining program that can help save time, TimeMatters 6.0 also has an outlining program built-in. Also, TextMap and Summation can help you summarize depositions. Hot Docs can help you automatically generate documents based on rules and greatly reduce the time necessary to generate documents.
- Use Weblogs to Stay Current on Technology – This is where the blogosphere starts to soar. There is a tremendous amount of talented, tech savvy lawyers who are willing to share their knowledge. Some of the major players are Dennis Kennedy, Jerry Lawson’s Netlawblog, Lawtech Guru Blog by Jeff Beard, the Digital Practice of Law, Strategic Legal Technology by Prism Legal Consulting, Tech Law Advisor by Kevin Heller. Reading these guys will help you stay abreast on technology and how other lawyers are using it.
- Use Weblogs to sty on Top of Productivity News and Thinking – As a natural procastinator, I’ve been focusing on productivity and how to get more work done with less effort. David Allen of Getting Things Done, Michael Hyatt’s Working Smart, Buzz Bruggemman of ActiveWords Buzznovation, theofficeweblog, Brendon Connelly’s Slacker Manager, Frank Patrick’s Focused Performance Business Blog, Merlin Mann’s 43 Folders and Steve Pavlina’s Blog are good places to start.
- Use Software to Manage your Case Load – Whether you go with Amicus Attorney, Time Matters, PC Law, ProLaw, Client Profiles, Perfect Practice, Needles or TrialWorks, having a good case management system and using it can greatly increase your effectiveness as a trial attorney.
- Use Weblogs for Practice Management Advice – Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips and Reid Trautz’s Reid My Blog are two new blogs by established law practice management experts. Matt Homann’s the [non]billable hour offers practice management tips, marketing advice and other good business ideas. Bruce MacEwen’s Adam Smith, Esq. examines large law firm economics. Even though I’m a sole practitioner, I find most of his posts relevant to managing my own practice. Courtney Kennedy, South Carolina’s practice management advisor also has great information.
- Use Weblogs for Marketing Advice/Help – There’s a world of legal marketing and other helpful weblogs out there. Some of the blogs that I find helpful are Larry Bodine’s Professional Marketing Blog, Ed Poll’s LawBiz Blog, Tom Kane’s Legal Marketing Blog, Tom Peters Blog, Beyond Branding, Church of the Customer, Bob Bly’s Blog, Lipsticking or Kerry Randall’s The Lawyer Marketing Guy Blog. It’s amazing the wealth of knowledge out there.
About the author: Dave Swanner is a plaintiff’s attorney in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. He has previously been a computer programmer and consultant, an interrogation instructor for the Army and cooked in the world chili cook-off in Terlingua, Texas. When he’s not at the beach, he can be found at his firm or his weblog South Carolina Trial Law Blog.