Successful Trial Logistics
As a trial attorney, when you’re in the war room, you don’t need to know what light bulb goes into which projector, how to order lunch or what time the printer will arrive from the outside vendor. Your support team should handle that, and handle it with ease. That said, your support team will look to you for clear outlines of what you want your war room and courtroom capabilities to be (Color printer? Internet connection? Room for 12 attorneys and 14 paralegals? No brown M&Ms?) Expending a little effort in advance to consider trial logistics can save you time, stress and money when you need it most.
The courtroom event
Is it a bench trial, or jury trial? Will there be only live witnesses, or will some witnesses be presented by video deposition? In other words, what’s the level of complexity? You probably don’t need the full-court press for an event that is only going to have you in town for 24 hours. However, if you are going to be settling in for a week or longer, it’s best to ensure some of the conveniences and comforts of your home office are in place. If you don’t have an in-house support team, now is the time to decide what support needs you might have so you have plenty of time to source the right vendors for your team.
Level of support
Again, there’s a big difference between one-day and multiweek events. In fact, for one-day events, you frequently need more people onsite—albeit for fewer hours—than you do for a longer stretch in court because everything happens at an accelerated pace. Decide what you need, and don’t be afraid to revise as you get closer to trial and have a better understanding of the full scope. Remember, it’s easier to cancel personnel and resources once they’re already in place than to try to marshal them at the last minute.
If you have to take the show on the road to a city where your firm doesn’t have office space, you can set up shop at local counsel, a hotel conference room, your client’s offices or rent conference space in an office building. Similar to using your firm’s own offices, local counsel will likely have more of what you will need, without having to arrange for it through a third party. But whichever location you choose, make sure that it has the following:
• Close proximity to the courthouse or your hotel (preferably both)
• Adequate space for your team to work together, including a breakout space where things are always quiet for more focused work
• High-speed Internet access, or the ability to have it installed
• A strong cellphone signal (no basement rooms!)
• Clear shipping and receiving contacts for messengers and other deliveries
• Secure storage and shredding facilities for your documents
Travel and lodging: don’t rough it
It sounds basic, but ensuring that your team has a hotel with all the amenities and a full support staff can go a long way when long hours and weeks away from home are a factor. Deciding when to arrive is also another way you can ensure a smooth operation. Some people fly in the night before—or even the morning of—an opening statement, and sometimes they do brilliantly. This is the exception, not the rule. For most, getting in at least a few days or a week before the big day is the better plan. It allows your team to settle in, address technical and supply problems that inevitably come up, and keeps the last-minute scrambling focused on what it should be focused on—your trial, not replacing the broken copier.
If you are including personnel from outside your firm, such as trial techs, graphics teams or other trial support personnel, be sure to communicate with them about arranging for travel and lodging. Does your firm normally book all these things for your team? If so, have them manage your vendors’ rooms as well. It keeps things simple, and can keep costs down by using your company’s frequent flier program, hotel rewards or other discounts your firm might have arranged with the hotel or airline.
Keep your team happy
Mom was right when she told you to eat right and get some sleep. Your team may request energy drinks, coffee by the gallon and sugary snacks, believing this is the way to stoke the furnace. It’s up to you to set the tone in your war room, ensuring that everyone gets at least some sleep, has some healthy food options, and has access to a fitness facility. Long days and lots of work are a given in any war room, but it should also be a given that your staff have an opportunity to depart the environment so they can recharge and refresh, rather than burning the midnight oil every day.
You may or may not be an attorney dedicated to having the latest and greatest personal technology in your pocket or purse. Either way, you should have a basic understanding of the equipment that a well-equipped war room requires. If you are wondering whether or not to bring in any of the following, it’s better to have the items on hand and not use some, than try to scramble in the heat of the moment, which will distract your team and waste valuable time and resources. Without getting into too much detail, make sure that you have at least the following:
• Computer for each team member
• Networked printer that everyone can print from (and backup toner!)
• A copier
• A scanner
• A reliable broadband Internet connection
• A projector for rehearsing opening and closing
A trusted point person
It’s important to realize that you are the leader of your team, and that they are looking to you for direction, timing and information. You can lighten your load, however, by designating a trusted point person to handle the daily operations of the war room. This person can be your co-counsel, an associate, a paralegal or your assistant, but no matter who it is, she should know, or have access to:
• The ins and outs of your case
• Your team, and have a good working relationship with all of your team members
• Who your vendors are and how to contact them (jury consultant, graphic designers, trial tech, etc.)
• How to get copies made, lunch ordered, supplies delivered and exhibits located
• Travel arrangements for every team member and have their contact information handy
• The courtroom calendar and anticipated chain of events
Your point person should be reliable and able to act calmly and with authority in a high-activity environment. She doesn’t need to know everything, but she needs to be resourceful enough to either find the answers to everybody’s questions, or refer them to someone else who can.
Now that you have your workspace and team all sorted, you should turn your attention to what equipment you’ll need for the courtroom. Figuring this out is relatively simple, but it is still crucial—all the work and money that your team puts into your case’s evidence and demonstratives will be for naught if the jury can’t see them when you need them to. Many courtrooms, especially district courts, are now at least partially equipped with presentation equipment. However, it may be outdated, or insufficient. It’s worth sending a knowledgeable member of your team to the courtroom to assess the equipment. If it doesn’t suit your needs, ask the court if you can bring your own, or if you can supplement. You will want to reach out to the other side to see if they have already arranged for setup of equipment, since most courts allow only one set to be brought in, to be shared by both parties. If possible, beat the other side to the punch and take the lead so you ensure control over the setup and placement of the equipment. And don’t forget: Federal courts require a signed order listing all the equipment you want to bring into the courtroom, in order to get through security.
From war room to courtroom
You have your team in place and all the tools they need to get their jobs done. Now you can make some strategic decisions on how to deploy your team while the trial is happening, giving you the best of both worlds—an active war room and an active courtroom. Make sure that you are getting the most from your trial team by appointing a communication point person in your courtroom who understands the technology of live transcript feeds, is enabled with a wireless Internet connection, and has all the key contact information for all associates and paralegals. Staff your courtroom strategically. Outside of opening and closing (which everyone should see, both for morale purposes and to keep abreast of the case), take only key attorneys and leave a strong team working diligently in the war room so they are able and ready to respond to your needs in the courtroom. Your war room staff can be focused on reviewing transcripts via live-feed, prepping for cross, getting witness testimony in order, responding to rulings, key motions or other filings.
The last mile
The trial is over, and now you need to get everything home. The key here is to take a bit of time, even though you and your team want to get home. Once the case goes to the jury, start the packing process with the nonessential items. Get your case files in order, send nonessential personnel on their way home, and keep only what is necessary to stay connected (laptops, printers, key documents) or that you will need to address any issues that arise as the jury deliberates. Once the verdict is in, you can start packing up and shipping out in earnest, ensuring that hotel bills are finalized, flights caught and equipment is returned to vendors. This should be easily handled by your point person in the war room, but keep an eye on the process as you wrap up operations. Remember, there will be another trial—in a month or a year, but it will happen—so make sure that as you pack, you do so in a way that organizes the files with the next trial in mind.
This article is reprinted with permission from the May 17, 2011 issue of The Recorder. © The Recorder, ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.
Appeared in The Recorder
May 17, 2011