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Video May Kill the Barris-Star

law talks

The Levison Towers have toppled. Literally. First the letter “O” fell from the side of the building, smashing 30 stories below to the alley. The partners took off the “N”, and we have resided in the “Levis” Tower for several months.

Engineers looked at the building foundation for about the same period of time. Last week, they huddled together, murmuring. The head engineer broke from the huddle shaking his head. A junior member of the engineering team came over to the partners with a sad look on his face. Evidently the Towers could not be saved, and he drew the short straw to tell them.

In truth, the building could have been saved, but the money necessary to return the structure to its former B grade glory was not justified. The wrecking ball came in on Friday, and only rubble and memories were left by Monday.

The Under Analysis crew are homeless but unfazed. Technology has changed the workplace in the past couple of decades. First came casual Friday, then telecommuting to work. Older lawyers go to the office as much to get out of the house as they do to work. Physical presence is becoming a conceit. While I am certain we will soon have new office space, likely with naming rights up for auction to the highest bidder, our mail is currently being forwarded to a van down by the river.

Courthouses may be the next obsolete structures. I took part in a demonstration of the newest high tech courthouse in our area last week. Twin 60 inch monitors hang on the walls so jurors and other spectators can see exhibits blown up in hi definition during a trial.  Monitors at counsel table and at the witness stand can be switched on and off independently of the large monitors. The judge, a few years my senior, sat at the bench with controls that would make a fighter pilot nervous. He was a wizard, choosing what would be displayed where and controlling which microphone was turned on.

Input was likewise impressive, allowing lawyers to markup documents and enter them into evidence without killing a single tree. Only a few electrons will be inconvenienced.

I demonstrated TrialPad, the iPad program we have used for years to present evidence. That app has evolved and is now completely wireless. In fact, the whole courtroom was wireless, with internet access to boot.

Perhaps the most intriguing piece of technology was the remote presence program. It allows a witness or party to appear from home while watching the entire proceedings through cameras trained on the judge and both counsel tables. I imagine expert witnesses testifying live in trial wearing a suit and tie above the table but with pajama pants on below, unbeknownst to all.

It is possible to try an entire case without anyone in the courtroom except judge and jury, and even remote juries are possible if not probable. The courthouse of the future may be a room full of cameras and monitors, with an A/V guru replacing the bailiff and court reporter.

While the technology thrilled my inner geek, I couldn’t help but worry about the future of the trial lawyer. A lawyer appearing remotely loses some of the dynamic only possible in person. There is no way to make eye contact with 12 jurors when you only have one camera on the jury box. Imagine pulling the key piece of missing evidence from a jacket pocket and then waiting while the camera zooms in on it- the electricity of the moment is lost. Which means that trial lawyers will have to adapt.

On the plus side, not appearing in a courthouse will cut down on my dry cleaning bill and travel time. I was relaying this development to Stuart Thomas, in town stumping for the moderately successful book tour for “Getting to NO- the Art of Passive Aggression.” Given the paucity of book stores, he has long been mindful of the need to adapt.

Advocacy and advice is all a trial lawyer has to offer and if the advocacy side of the business is on the wane, perhaps the advice side should wax. Thomas and I are both big fans of the Car Talk radio show and we decided that giving advice to callers would be a good avenue for us to explore. My friend doesn’t know the difference between a carburetor and  a waffle iron, so we are sticking to legal advice.

Unfortunately, no radio stations have lined up to book us. The very internet that threatens to kill trial practice offers an alternative. We are starting Law Talk- like the Under Analysis building, naming rights are up for bid.

So Gentle Reader, now is your chance. Send your law question to us at my email address below, or care of this paper. “Law question” is a pretty broad term. Stuart is an expert on all things Shelley’s Case, by the way. I will reprint our discussion of your question in this space next month, and deliver to you a copy of the whole thing electronically, suitable for deleting. Even if our answer doesn’t solve your problem, the opportunity may well solve ours.

©2016 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. Catchy sign offs are in the works.  Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at