When lawyers present and summarize a case, they need to do it “in a way that people now expect to see information presented to them,” said James E. McMillan, a management consultant in technology services at the National Center for State Courts, a nonprofit organization in Williamsburg, Va. “We are a TV generation now.”
These days, opening and closing arguments are often augmented with PowerPoint presentations and video clips from depositions that jurors can view on monitors in the jury box. Through audio conferencing, foreign language translators in remote locations can take part in courtroom proceedings.
In some cases, the courtroom itself is becoming outdated. More courtroom proceedings occur through videoconferences in which a camera transmits a judge’s image to lawyers in offices elsewhere.
At a recent trial in Chattanooga, Tenn., lawyers for the defendant and the federal government wore tiny wireless microphones on their lapels that amplified their voices. In Judge Kaplan’s federal courtroom in Manhattan, lawyers who approach the judge’s bench for a sidebar conversation are unlikely to be overheard by jurors because the judge can activate sound-neutralizing white noise in the jury box from a touch-screen panel that controls the court’s audio and visual equipment.
The amount of evidence presented in court has increased strikingly in the last 40 years, Judge Kaplan said, and improved technology makes it easier for jurors to sift through the information.
“The benefit is that it makes the trial go a lot faster and thus enables us to do more in the same amount of time, and it is much clearer to the jury to be able to get information this way,” Judge Kaplan said. “When it’s well used, the juries love it.”
Judge Kaplan is a member of a committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States that makes recommendations about improving technology in the federal courts. According to the Courtroom 21 Project, an experimental and demonstration site for students at the College of William and Mary law school in Virginia that is a testing ground for such technology, one-quarter of the courts in the nation’s 94 federal districts have at least one high-tech courtroom.