I just returned from helping teach a 2 ½ day intensive training workshop for trial lawyers. The workshop focuses on how to better use technology in the courtroom and to persuade generally. The workshop and program, called FedTechU, is put on by the Federation of Defense and Corporate Counsel (better known as the FDCC and of which I am a proud member). It is held annually; of course, this is the first workshop in a couple of years due to Covid.
The goal is to help participating FDCC members learn to use technology better to persuade everyone. Lawyers not only use persuasion in front of juries but also with everyone from mediators, opposing counsel and clients. The workshop was developed because we discovered that there was no actual program for lawyers devoted exclusively to best practices for using state of the art technology. I comprehensivly discussed FedTechU in a previous post.
The FDCC is “composed of recognized leaders in the legal community who have achieved professional distinction, is dedicated to promoting knowledge, fellowship, and professionalism of its members.” Membership is for trial lawyers and in-house counsel and is by invitation only. Candidates are rigorously vetted to be sure they are outstanding lawyers but also good people. The group is close-knit, highly collegial, and dedicated to making certain its members are the best trial lawyers. Most importantly, FDCC members try cases. Lots of cases: it’s not unusual for members to try at least one case a month and sometimes more.
As I said, several years ago, FDCC leadership looked around and didn’t see any resource available for trial attorneys to identify persuasive technologies. Or to teach them how to best use them. FDCC leadership also correctly realized that effectively using technology particularly in the courtroom and elsewhere would be a considerable advantage. To not do so could also place a FDCC lawyer at a distinct disadvantage.
So we developed a 2 ½ day hands-on intensive program for utilizing the best of the best. It’s an opportunity for FDCC members who have mastered courtroom technology to share their knowledge and skills with other members. Students are exposed to lectures, demonstrations, and performance workshops designed to enhance and strengthen their ability to develop a visual mindset and tech strategy.
The participants work with the faculty for the better part of a day and then build presentations for use in mock opening or closing statements, arbitrations, client updates, mediations, among other things. They each make live demonstrations to the whole class, subject to evaluation and comment.
In keeping with the spirit of the workshop to be a safe place to learn, the critiques are primarily used to show how and why each person did what they did. Why they used what they used in their presentation.
The participants learn such things how to effectively use TrialPad to call out portions of documents and other materials, animated timelines, anatomy apps, google earth, photos, and videos, among other technologies. They also learned the value of being able to run technology themselves instead of relying on someone sitting in the proverbial “hot seat” that they would direct. It so enhances the lawyer’s credibility and stature when the lawyer can control the technology.
The workshop culminates with the certification by the FDCC of the attendees as Technology Master Advocates. These certifications can be used to demonstrate to clients, potential clients, and other lawyers that the attorney has special technology training and knowledge.
This year’s class consisted of 14 lawyers. By design, the size of each class is small to facilitate the on hands nature of the training. The Chair this year, the esteemed Mississippi trial lawyer, Jimmy Wilkins, tweeked the program just a bit for the better. First, the faculty was substantially aided and augmented by Brett Burney of Burney Consultants and Tara Cheever of LitSoftware. (LitSoftware has created revolutionary iPad products for the courtroom: TrialPad, TranscriptPad, DocReviewPad, and ExhibitPad). We will forever be grateful for their input and involvement. Second, Wilkins held a substantial number of virtual office hours in advance of the workshop where participants could ask questions and get more information.
I’m always amazed had how quickly the lawyers going through the program grasp and master the technologies offered. I’m also amazed how they can embrace the technologies and so effectively use them in their presentations in such a short time. Of course, they are all skilled and experienced trial lawyers and are master storytellers, to begin with. But it’s still remarkable to see what they can do once they have the new tech tools.
The students and the faculty all learn from each other through the presentations how to take the tech and use it to make more effective and persuasive presentations
It’s a super program. The participants get introduced to trial technology and helped by more tech experienced lawyers on how to work and leverage that tech. But more importantly, the students and the faculty all learn from each other through the presentations how to take the tech and use it to make more effective and persuasive presentations. Give a bunch of great trial tools to tell a story, and they will astound you with what they can do with it.
I always learn maybe more than I teach at the workshop. What did I as a faculty member learn this year? Three things.
First, tech doesn’t always have to be visual to persuade. In one presentation, the lawyer was trying to show how someone should have noticed an approaching forklift that was backing up and thereby escape injury. He showed a black screen and played an audiotape of the beeping sound reversing forklift makes. Very persuasive and to the point. The effective use of technology doesn’t mean constant visual imagery.
Second, sometimes not using tech can be tremendously effective. Another lawyer used a variety of technologies in his presentation but now and then would show a blank screen while he just talked. When he did that, every eye shifted from the screen to him. It forced the listeners to pay attention to him instead of the screen for certain critical points he wanted to make.
There is an overarching lesson from both of these examples. I have always championed the use of technology in the courtroom and elsewhere to persuade. And, as a general rule think that is true. But sometimes, you need to drive a point home by not using technology. These two examples evidence that.
The effective use of technology means fitting the technology into the story you want to tell and not using it when you decide that it’s more effective
The more I thought about it, the more I believe you need to know what technology is available and what it can do to recognize when it’s more effective not to use it. The effective use of technology means fitting the technology into the story you want to tell and not using it when you decide that it’s more effective. Like the line from the famous Kenny Rogers song; You’ve got to know when to hold ’em, Know when to fold ’em.
Another point that was driven home this year: practice makes perfect. The students who did the best with their presentations took time to do a practice session with a faculty member before presenting to the group. To be good at using tech to persuade, you have to take the time to master the fundamentals of what it can do and then practice using it. When you do, the story you are telling comes alive.
Too often, lawyers don’t do that and then abandon the technology in their presentations or leave it to someone else to run it. Either way, the presentation is less effective.
FedTechU is an excellent training tool and demonstrates the need for more education in the technology space for lawyers. Other associations and state bars should take note.