what sort of gadgets can lawyers use in the courtroom? what do they actually use, if anything?

I think the title says it all. Do they bring laptops? Smartphones without camera? Voice recorders? Goose quills?

Are there any limitations on this beyond prohibition of cameras? Does the keyboard have to be silent?

Is there any specialized software marketed for use by lawyers inside the courtroom?

Or do they take all their notes on paper using a pen?

Most modern courts allow the use of internet connected laptops where necessary. I have done trials where all the potential documents were stored electronically in advance of the trial, and then pulled up and shown to the jury and witnesses on screens as needed and then tendered electronically. In my jurisdiction phones are not allowed in court rooms (even on silent) because the regular polling of the network the phone does interferes with the sound recording system. (You know that odd noise your computer periodically makes when your mobile is next to it?)

I have also done trials with real-time transcripts, so that as a witness speaks, the note taker’s machine translates the notes into English and the transcript is put onto a computer screen in front of me with a lag of 10 seconds or so. For my part, I don’t find this as useful as you might think.

The software to run these things is commonly available. I doubt it is particularly specialised.

At the other end of the technology spectrum (ie, for most cases), trials are document heavy. The documents are typically kept in ring binders and organised according to whatever scheme fits the occasion best. The technology involved is often no more sophisticated than highlighter pens, Post-It notes, and ordinary pen and paper.

do people actually bring in those laptops and use them?

I did not understand your comment about software. So what sort of software, specialized or otherwise, might a lawyer use in the courtroom on his laptop? Do they take notes about proceedings, review their own documents or in general do they do anything at all on the laptop?

Lawyers are the only beings in the Universe who still use WordPerfect.

Wouldn’t this all be at the discretion of the judge? That’s what I learned from that documentary, “My Cousin Vinny”.

As for software. If there is an Internet connection, I’m sure there is a legal abstract service online that could very quickly be cross checked. Obviously, you would have your case prepared in advance, but the opposing argument may throw a curve ball.

Google Earth for one

No recording devices. A junior lawyer got hit with a contempt a while ago for using a tape recorder (probably actually a solid state recorder) during a hearing.

I’ve never seen cases searched for on the fly in Court, but I have taken notes on a laptop. Frankly, even if you do find a case on the fly, you wouldn’t have had time to read it and know what it says, and if the judge doesn’t have a copy of the case you can’t very well ask him to your side of the bar and show him your laptop screen.

I can only speak for myself, but having a laptop in the courtroom enables me to have a separate link to the depository of electronically stored materials so I can have my assistants pre-fetch documents for me to see in addition to those on the screen visible in the court room. The sorts of documents I am talking about are things like bank statements, medical charts, and so on.

The software I am talking about is database software that allows secure access in various ways to the database of documents and allows them to be manipulated into and out of the class of documents which are formal exhibits. Of course Adobe or the like is necessary because many of the docs are stored as pdf files.

I have also done searches for cases in court, but only cases whose existence I was already aware of and just wanted to able to pull up and quote accurately in response to a developing argument. You don’t have time to do actual research once you are in court.

And you don’t do much creation of things like Word documents in the court room itself. You might use Word to do an electronic search of the electronic version of the daily transcript in court to find where someone said something about “widgets” for example. Note taking on a laptop is (for me) too cumbersome. Handwritten notes work best.

But the notes are not really simply a detailed recording of what the witness is saying. Much of what a witness says is uncontroversial. And when the witness is called by me, I am on my feet asking questions, so I can’t make notes on a computer of that sort.

Assuming you have access to a regular transcript, most notetaking in court is a)a prompt to yourself to do something (like remember to refer to some point or other in your address to the jury, or in some legal argument to a judge) or b) to record a small point of what a witness has said so you can cross-examine on it with some semblance of accuracy. It all happens very quickly (from the perspective of the lawyers, even if the audience is bored stupid by it) and laptops are too intrusive and slow to be used for notetaking for that sort of task. At least that is my experience. Others may vary.

Also, I can access email to send back to the office for stuff if I need it and so on, have my assistants organise witnesses from within the courtroom without having to go outside and make phone calls. That sort of thing.

I don’t use a computer in the court room. My practice tends to be focussed on legal argument, either in chambers or on appeal, not trial work, so the documents are usually already filed with the Court in bound volumes, and there are no witnesses. The legal arguments are all supported by written briefs, with voluminous books of authorities in support. If I need to refer to a particular case or statute, I refer the Court to the relevant book of authority. It’s very rare that a case or statute is referred to out of the blue by opposing counsel.

Some years ago, I appeared against a very computer literate counsel, who had all of his cases on his laptop, along with his notes for oral argument, and he continually referred to it during oral argument.

I had a beat-up looseleaf binder, with hand-written notes, written with my fountain pen. If I needed to refer to a case, I just relied on a traditional non-electronic data retrieval system, i.e. my memory of the case.

Mrs Piper happened to be in court for oral argument that day, and got talking to opposing counsel. He told her that he found my methods very intimidating, because I was capable of arguing a complex case without having the cases at my fingertips, just relying on memory. So technological gadgets may not always give you an edge. :smiley:

That’s because we appreciate it’s value! :stuck_out_tongue:

Seriously, WP was originally designed for lawyers, and it just works better for me than Word ever does. It’s a far more intuitive program, in my opinion, and also much easier to fix formatting problems, via Reveal Codes. When I’m pounding out a brief against a deadline, it’s a far superior program.

The prosecutor for the trial I was a juror for used PowerPoint for her opening (and maybe closing) argument.

There are those pressing for that sort of thing (Powerpoint addresses). For my part, I am against them, although I would be very keen to hear of your experience, Voyager.

My argument is that use of such aids rapidly becomes a Red Queen’s Race - running as fast as you can just to remain in the same place. It becomes a contest of who has the resources to generate the coolest slides, and expensive contests like this ought not to be encouraged.

Secondly, my sense is that there is something real in complaints about the Powerpoint Effect. People seem to have a clearer understanding of what the slide is about when it is on the screen but that that clarity evaporates once the slide is off the screen and another takes its place. The illusory sense of having “got it” while the slide is on the screen lulls the juror into taking less effort to remember the content. In effect, people trying to absorb and remember complex and unfamiliar information are paradoxically worse off with powerpoint than they would be if they listened and took their own notes.

Courts are resistant to counsel’s slides going into the jury room for fear of maximising the effect of “he who makes the better slides, wins”, so there is no answer to be found in saying let the jurors have printouts of the slides.

Of course all of this may be the dinosaur in me, and I am quite prepared to be wrong.

So - your thoughts would be helpful.

Classic article from the Wall Street Journal about the military’s PowerPoint arms race.

why does this discussion keep veering off onto things that are done publicly in the courtroom? I hate PowerPoint (as well as the people too dumb to understand arguments not in slide form) as much as the next guy, but my question is primarily about what the lawyers are doing in the privacy of their own laptop (or other such gadget) to help them with the work.

Better software can make smart people effectively even smarter / more effective, even if nobody else sees it on the projector screen. Bad software, of course, can and does have precisely the opposite effect.

FYI, here is an article from the New York Times about artificial intelligence software used to search documents. Of course this is not being used by lawyers inside the courtroom, but is being used to replace the work of lawyers and paralegals during the discovery phase.

Because the OP does not seem to really set that forth. But you have made it clear now what you were looking for.

Anyway, courtroom-graphics designer checking in:

I was going to go into an explanation of when or why a PowerPoint presentation might be appropriate in a courtroom situation, but I see now that should be a topic for another thread.

I will point out that trial teams will often hire a courtroom technology expert who is responsible for not only displaying the public exhibits, demonstratives, videotaped deposition testimony, etc., but often for assembling these on the fly as the trial progresses. For example, he may need to “cut clips” which basically involves editing out and compiling certain sections of a longer piece of testimony. Or, perhaps, a document needs to have a paragraph called-out (enlarged) and annotated (highlighting, red circles, etc.). This person performing these tasks is considered to be “in the hot seat”. Ideally these things are done in the days leading up to the trial, but sometimes they need to be done on the spot. The process is hardly public. The courtroom tech might be considered to be a “human gadget” aiding the lawyer/trial team. To some they are as indispensable as their Blackberry.

Ugh. No shit. In a former life, working for a Federal law enforcement agency as an “IT Guy,” we found ourselves crippled when we started relying on MS Office. The USAO couldn’t read our investigative reports unless we sent them by “sneaker net” or secure fax. I must have had to install 500 standalone instances of WordPerfect. All of them, of course, “urgent.”

Sigh… end user support was hell…

I don’t think this is true. WordPerfect was originally designed for use by a city government. I suppose a city government may include a few lawyers, but as far as I know it wasn’t designed especially for them; it was just a general-purpose word processor. A lot of the features commonly used in legal documents weren’t added until years later.

I have used Ipad and my laptop. On the other hand outside of Intellectual Property cases I really cannot recall ever using them during Oral Advocacy.

And a well written case note is worth its weight in gold, it helps you during arguements and can be given to the Judge at the end of arguments; s/he will appreciate it and remember you contentions when writing the judgement, since I really don’t know any Judge who actually does read through transcripts unless absolutely necessary.

And my answer is, not much.

When I’m in my office, prepping for a case, I’m a heavy computer user - cases, statutes and journal articles are all available on-line, I prepare briefs and memos on my computer, I have a lot of e-mail correspondence and exchanges of documents, links, etc. I have two desks, and I find I sit at my computer desk more than my writing desk (I do also write documents - with the aforesaid fountain pen). I’d be lost without computer access in my office.

But when I’m in the courtroom, it’s an entirely different type of work. I’m either listening or talking. I’m listening to the judge, to opposing counsel, and (rarely, in my case) to witnesses. I take quick notes, but they’re not a transcript - they’re to remind myself of points I need to respond to. I have my own notes ready for my orals.

And when I’m talking, I need to already know what cases and statutes I’m going to refer to, and I’ll have the citations and tabs in the Book of Authorities incorporated into my notes for orals. One of the easiest ways to distract a judge and to lose the train of your argument is to stop and try to find the reference to a case or statute that you’re discussing - whether hunting through the physical Book of Authorities, or doing an electronic search.

It sometimes happens that the judge or opposing counsel may refer to a case or statute that I haven’t put into my orals, but if I’ve done my prep work right, I should have anticipated that, from reading opposing counsel’s brief - and I’ll know where to find it in opposing counsel’s Book of Authorities.

Frankly, if I needed to be poking around on my computer in the courtroom, while either the judge or the other lawyer is talking, it would mean I had not properly prepared, and was losing valuable chances to understand opposing counsel’s argument and to adapt my own argument to the points that the judge seemed interested in.

So there aren’t many gadgets that I would find useful in the courtroom itself - it’s a different type of work from the prep work I do in my office, where the computer is invaluable.

I’ve heard it said that 90% of court work is done in your office.