New Technology May Revolutionize How Lawyers Use Evidence

Article excerpt

Despite the high drama portrayed in "L.A. Law" and a spate of recent courtroom movies, most people in the legal profession spend the bulk of their time grappling with paperwork.

But that may be changing. In the last few years, software and computer systems have emerged that are altering the ways lawyers gather and manage the evidence in their cases.

For a few hundred dollars, lawyers can buy software that helps organize information. And for close to $5,000, they can obtain multimedia technological systems to manage evidence and speed research.

"The whole field is just ripe for this sort of technology," said Jerome Miller, administrator of court reporters for the Cook County, Ill., courts in Chicago, and a former president of the National Court Reporters Association.

The most recent technological advance, introduced late last month by Stenograph Legal Services Inc. of San Ramon, Calif., is a device that can show text, video and audio images on a single computer screen at one time.

The system has the capacity to search and retrieve any word or succession of words from a text or videotape of a court proceeding or preial deposition. Company officials are hoping that the system will be embraced by the legal community as a timeving and moneyving tool.

"It brings to the table something that will expedite the judicial process," said Sam N. Edge, president of Stenograph Legal Services and chief mastermind behind the DiscoveryVideo superscr system.

Using four components, the system works quite simply. While a deposition or trial is being taped, on video or laser disc, a court reporter transcribes the proceedings on a stenographic device that is connected to a personal computer equipped with the company's software.

The finished videotape or disc is popped into a VCR or a computer. Using commands on the computer keyboard, words can be searched through the text alone or in the text and tape at the same time. The video can be viewed on a standard television screen or on a computer monitor. The tape can be searched at reduced speeds, even frame by frame if necessary. The system also allows for noteking and annotation throughout the text.

Gone are the lengthy searches through mounds of paper transcripts or hours of unedited videotape. While trial testimony and depositions have been videotaped for several years, as allowed by the court, the ability to instantly catalogue and easily search the tape is relatively new.

People in the court reporting field believe systems such as DiscoveryVideo superscr will not only be used in preial research, but by lawyers and judges in the courtroom during the course of trials to check prior testimony or court exhibits.

"Videotape recordings are starting to be part of the official record," said Edge. He also believes that videotaped testimony and depositions will be used more often in the future and will become more influential in swaying judges and juries who might not otherwise pick up the verbal nuances or facial tics of a witness.

"That's an aspect of this that a court transcript doesn't bring," he said. "Even though it's subtle, it's a major aspect."

Edge and others in the legal technology field say that while new systems like DiscoveryVideo superscr are bound to evolve and flourish in the future, the bureaucratic and traditionund legal world may present some resistance.

"It irritates me to death that law firms and the judicial systems don't behave like businesses," said Walter Sutton, president of Logan Pearsall Inc. …