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Column: Innovative trial techniques on a shoestring budget

Editorial Indiana
November 23, 2011
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Tensions are high and sleep levels are low. Preparing for an upcoming trial often causes anxiety at every level within a firm. While most would like to prepare things more efficiently, it often seems that purchasing the “right” software would simply be too costly. The truth is most firms already possess many of the “right tools” and are merely underutilizing them, while other tools are easily attainable. Below are several common trial preparation tasks and affordable solutions to complete them in a more efficient and effective manner.

deanna finney Finney

The need to convert files to PDF format is very common these days. While many people are aware of the ability to scan to PDF, some do not recognize that electronic files can simply be converted to PDF without expensive software. In fact, users that have Microsoft Office 2007 or 2010 have a “Save to PDF” feature built in to the “Save As” options within all of their Office programs. With a document open, users can simply choose the “Save As” function and select “PDF” from the “file type” drop-down as well as the name and location to which they would like to save the PDF file. Another great option is CutePDF Writer (www.cutepdf.com), a free tool that allows you to “print” any file to a PDF format. Once installed, this tool will appear in the list of available printers. To convert a file to PDF, simply open the file or webpage and choose print. Next, select the “Cute PDF” printer and when prompted, enter the name and location to save the newly created PDF file.

Document markups can be painstakingly monotonous, including tasks such as bates stamping pages, redacting information and highlighting key points. While some people try to finagle their way through these tasks using things like whiteout, Post-it notes and a scanner, there is a much more efficient way that is cost effective, too. Many files are already in PDF format which makes editing the PDF an obvious choice. However, with the full version of Adobe Professional retailing for roughly $450 per license, it is not always a feasible solution for every firm. A great alternative that is a fraction of the price is CutePDF Professional (www.cutepdf.com). This tool allows users to delete and reorder pages, crop and rotate pages, combine multiple documents into a single PDF and quickly insert headers and footers including bates numbers. Redacting, highlighting and additional markup tools including a “typewriter” function are also available and easy to utilize. CutePDF Professional also allows users to easily convert PDF files to image files such as JPEG or TIFF.

Staying organized can be a challenge, especially in document intensive cases. While there are many great tools like Summation and Concordance, many firms choose not to use them due to their high price tag and extensive learning curve. A favorite alternate solution to maintain a hyperlinked exhibit list is Microsoft Excel. Keeping an exhibit list in Excel format allows users to easily sort, filter, keyword search and track lots of information about the documents in a tool that most firms already own. In fact, users can even hyperlink the corresponding document(s) on the list to easily click and open documents on demand. Excel hyperlinking is as easy as 1-2-3: 1. Select the cell to hyperlink. 2. Right click and select hyperlink. 3. Browse out and select the corresponding document. Voila! Now, the selected cell will appear with bright blue font and upon clicking, the corresponding document will automatically open.

The continual need to share information with co-counsel, expert witnesses and others can quickly become costly when CDs, DVDs and shipping are involved. Sharing files electronically has historically not been an option for many due to additional administration of remote servers and expensive software like Citrix. Some fear using online file sharing programs like Dropbox due to the bad publicity surrounding its security protocols and questions of data ownership. There is a secure and affordable alternative available at www.yousendit.com. YouSendIt implements a seven-layer security strategy to keep data safe and secure in addition to making it clear that they will “not claim any ownership rights in any User Files.” Even better, YouSendIt is a primarily free program with a paid option for users wanting to store or send more than 2GB of data at once. With YouSendIt, users can quickly upload and send documents that are too large to email or set up shared folders and make content available to others whom they invite.

It is often difficult to implement new solutions during the heat of trial preparation, so plan ahead and explore these solutions in advance. Small investments like these can greatly reduce the enormous expense of inefficiencies.•

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Deanna Finney (deanna.finney@miscindiana.com) is a co-owner of the Indianapolis-based legal technology company, Modern Information Solutions LLC. Areas of service include traditional IT services, software training and litigation support including trial presentation services. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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  • Positive Solutions
    I highly recommend Deanna and her team of professionals that serve the legal community. Great information and many thanks for sharing.

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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