High-Tech Trials: Best Practices In War Room Equipment

A high-tech trial typically will include equipment in both the war room - for trial preparation - and the courtroom - for in-court display of evidence and demonstratives. Whether in the war room or the courtroom, the equipment must be dependable. Nowhere is it more critical than during trial that equipment perform as intended. In the war room, attorneys and staff must be able to rely on computers and printers to speed up the preparation process for the next trial day, and equipment failure could spell disaster, especially if your war room is in a remote location away from your home office resources.

Well in advance of trial, contact your in-house litigation support group or trial consulting company and request a list of support equipment. Importantly, take steps to ensure that the equipment to be deployed is well-maintained and sufficient in specifications to provide the speed and efficiency you will require during trial. If you are working with consultants and are leasing equipment, make sure the equipment provided is new and up to the task at hand. Some trial consulting companies rent out their own equipment as a means of profit, which can be an incentive to them to hold on to outdated equipment. Make sure you’re not getting the last few items in the warehouse.

Though the type and size of the war room and length of trial will play some role in the amount and kind of equipment deployed, every war room, whether local to your firm or remote, generally will have the same core complement of equipment. First and foremost, everyone in the war room should be equipped with a reliable computer with access to the Internet, which typically means a small network setup (discussed below). Laptop computers are favored for remote environments as they are much easier to ship and deploy than their desktop cousins, as well as easier transport. Attorneys likely will use their own firm-issued laptops during trial as these devices are presumed to be well-maintained by the firm’s IT staff, and they will be configured for remote access to the firm’s network, as well as for security. If your support staff also has firm-issued laptops, they will suffice for most engagements - an exception is longer duration matters or serial/multi-district litigation with larger trial teams and a central server where it can be advantageous to rent identically configured laptops. This is covered in more detail below.

Printers, copiers and scanners are a necessity in the war room as well. Although today there are many multi-function devices that combine all three, as well as faxes, unless your trial team is small or the trial is short, multi-function devices should be avoided in favor of singularly dedicated devices. The old saying “Jack of all trades, master of none” especially is applicable in this context as each respective function is slower on a multi-function device than on a piece of equipment solely dedicated to its task. Moreover, multi-function devices can contribute to time constraints: For example, when one person is printing to a multi-function device, it cannot be used for scanning or copying, and no one wants to wait to complete a task, particularly at trial when time invariably is in short supply. Additionally, if such a device were to fail, one loses all the functionalities of that device—printing, copying, scanning and faxing—and such a single point of failure should be avoided.

With this in mind, the number of devices deployed will be dictated by the size of your team. A good rule of thumb is to have one high-speed black-and-white laser printer for every five persons. These printers will be the workhorses at trial, whether you’re printing outlines, motions or witnesses binders. You also need to have a high-speed color laser printer on hand. One color printer typically is sufficient unless you will be relying heavily on graphics and demonstratives; then you would need more than one. Be sure the color printer is a laser device and not an inkjet. Inkjet printers are cheap and convenient for home use but simply do not print fast enough for use at trial, and they can run out of ink very quickly. Even color laser printers can be put to task at trial when printing from programs such as PowerPoint. Be sure your in-house support department or outside trial consulting company is providing a late-model color laser printer with a sufficient print speed. Ask for specifications and print speeds: A minimum of 20 color pages per minute is recommended for a war room environment. Importantly, make sure you have a full complement of consumables for all your printers, including toners and enough paper. There is nothing more frustrating than running out of toner at 3:00 in the morning before an important witness is scheduled to appear. With respect to copiers and scanners, one of each generally will be sufficient unless the trial team is very large. Conversely, if the team is small or the duration is short, a large-footprint copier may not be necessary, as a scanner connected to a laptop can be used as an ad hoc copier; i.e., you can scan the document into a PDF file and print to a black-and-white or color printer. Finally, if you do decide to go with a large-footprint copier, make sure it is provided by a local contractor and arrange in advance for fast turnaround on service calls. Copiers invariably have issues, such as paper jams and toner clogs, and having immediate access to a local, on-call technician is a must.

Now that you have your laptops, printers and scanners set, it is time to think about “sharing.” The ability to share is crucial in a war room: You will want to share printers, data and, of course, the all-important Internet connection, and this is where a small network comes into play. To share Internet bandwidth, along with printers and data, you will need a network router connected to the primary Internet connection and shared with all computers via Ethernet cables or a wireless connection. You can leave the actual details to your litigation support staff or outside consultants, but you will want to ensure the network is secure. If Ethernet cables are used, make sure they do not run through public areas where someone could have tampered with the lines. 

Likewise, if you’re going to use a wireless network, make sure the network is set up to send encrypted data and that passwords or keys are required in order to get connected. Though wireless security has come a long way in recent years, it generally is preferable to use a wired connection with cables running through secure areas. One can’t be too careful with confidential data and electronic work product.

With the infrastructure in place, you need to plan how you’re going to access all that data and all those documents you’ve accumulated for trial. The first question to ask is whether you will be bringing data with you for easier/faster access and, if so, how much data? The more data you bring, it becomes increasingly important to have a file server on-site. For shorter duration trials with small document databases, you may not need any centralized, on-site hosting or network sharing capabilities. What’s stored on each individual’s laptop may be acceptable, and, with sufficient bandwidth, you always can access your office network via Citrix or VPN. However, for larger engagements, you normally will have some sort of shared network on-site with the ability to share printers and data - and, of course, an Internet connection. At a minimum, your litigation support staff or outside consultants should have access to a central storage location in the war room to house the trial presentation database, video depositions and any demonstratives that may be used. A central location from which to access these data, coupled with a small network, allows the support team to share and print information, access e-mail and the Internet, and back up important files. Any changes made during an evening of preparation are stored in the central repository and can be loaded to the trial computers each morning for display during court. Depending on the amount of data, number of users and trial budget, the central repository need not be a full-blown, enterprise-level server; for example, a desktop computer with a shared or external drive connected to a laptop and configured to be shared over the network may be sufficient.

Longer engagements, such as multi-district litigation and large-exposure matters with complicated products, may demand a proper file server with significant storage for locally hosted data. These types of engagements usually require large trial teams that will need sustained access to trial and discovery databases and video depositions, which, by themselves, demand a lot of storage and cannot be accessed over the Internet. Indeed, the Internet can become a bottleneck in this situation if there is no locally hosted data. Multiple persons using Citrix or VPN to access data back at the office can grind even the most robust Internet connection to a slow crawl. Every file accessed in such a manner must be pulled across the Internet to the user’s laptop and, thereby, uses bandwidth; additionally, such connections typically are encrypted, adding to the load on the Internet connection. A T1 or faster connection generally is sufficient for moderate remote access, but 10 to 20 associates and paralegals relying exclusively on such a connection and constantly accessing files likely will result in staring at an hourglass. This is not to say you need to bring all 25 discovery databases to the war room. Rather, schedule a meeting with your in-house support group or outside consultants to discuss on-site hosting vs. Citrix/VPN access and come up with a plan to mitigate bandwidth erosion during the trial. The result may be some combination of hosted data with an increase in Internet bandwidth. Regardless, when faced with significant data, plan well ahead to make sure all the information is at your fingertips when you need it.

Finally, regardless of the decision pertaining to having a local file server in the war room or remote access to your firm’s resources back at the office, always maintain a backup of the work product and database(s) used on-site in the war room. This can be a function of a properly configured file server, use of a separate device such as tape backup or network attached storage device, or even an external hard drive. Much like running out of toner for the printer or copier at 3 a.m., failure of your principal data storage device can be disastrous—make sure you have a complete backup of the data and plan in advance with your litigation support team or outside consultants for the protocols and equipment to be used to ensure data redundancy.

In sum, whether configured in your office for a local hearing or set up in a leased space for a remote trial, make sure you have access to quality computers, equipment and peripherals and the ability to efficiently share printers, data and Internet connectivity.

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