Time machines do exist. They're called U.S. courtrooms. Why is it that a lawyer can be so technologically savvy outside the courtroom when using the internet, smartphones, and other modern technology, but as soon as that same lawyer walks into a courtroom he's banging rocks together trying to start a fire? I've said it numerous times before, but courts are so far behind the technological curve, that aside from electric lighting, there is very little difference between the courtrooms of old and those of today.
Don't get me wrong, historic courtrooms are great. They have a wonderful atmosphere that lets any person standing there feel the legal history present in them. They are often the polished wood courtrooms we see on TV shows. They represent where we came from and the principles that made our judicial system great simply by reminding us of it with their beautiful, but older style architecture and design. Nonetheless, these historical courtrooms weren't built with technology in mind. In some courtrooms across the country, even the addition of electrical lighting seems out of place. Check out these historic courtrooms:
While they do have a lot of character, there is no reason why these courtrooms shouldn't have some modern amenities to make them a little more up to date with today's technology. What exactly do I mean by that? I'm glad you asked.
Many lawyers and courtrooms feel that ELMOs (Electronic Light Magnifying Object or Video Document Camera) and projector screens are cutting edge technology in the courtroom. In some sense they are correct when considering the fact that there is almost no technology in many courtrooms, but how high tech are these devices are in everyday life? Not very. Think about the kind of television you have at home. Better yet, think about the children's toys out there on the market like the Xbox Kinect or the Nintendo Wii gaming console. Now consider that children are using high tech equipment daily and for everything while attorneys are using dated technology. Of course ELMOs and projectors have their valid uses such as on-the-fly presenting or magnification, but they are not cutting edge (I will talk more about the effective USE of different kinds of technology in a later blog post, but for now let's focus on the equipment itself).
On the flip side, there are more and more "modern" courtrooms popping up all over the country. For example check out a video of courtroom 21 in Bexar county (where even in this type of courtroom, you'll notice a heavy focus on the ELMO features):
This is a more historic courthouse with added equipment such as LCD monitors all over the place. The plaintiff, defendant, jurors, judge, and clerk all get their own monitors. There is an ELMO, DVD/VCR players, and even touchscreen interactive monitors. This courthouse is older, but still equipped with some of the latest technology.
That brings me to another point. Just because a courtroom wasn't designed with technology in mind doesn't mean it needs to be relegated to the stone age. Here, at WIN Interactive, we've taken it as kind of a pet project to bring technology into all kinds of courtrooms. While we are more than happy to use technology that is already in place, we often find the need to bring our own. In some cases, we fully outfit an entire courtroom with technology for semi-permanent use. For example, check out these before and after pictures of a court room in South Dakota that we gave a very simple, but effective set up:
You'll notice that the equipment seems to fit seamlessly into this very simple courtroom and yet if you look at the "before" pictures, you can see that the courtroom was devoid of technology other than perhaps an old tube televison.
Despite the lack of technology in most courtrooms, there are some that try to keep up with the times. Here is a picture of one courtroom in florida that looks great. I'd love to try a case there:
Here is yet another courtroom project such as courtroom 23 in Florida. If you click on the link you can take a look at some of the technology they have outfitted in their courtroom. This courtroom was designed in 1998. If you take a look at some of the pictures you can see that they had the right idea in mind, but they are still behind the times in technology. For example, they have a rolling podium that has a monitor and an ELMO attached to it. While this may have seemed like a good idea to them at the time, it of course has its problems. While this is better than nothing and it's an admirable goal to give the attorney everything he would need within arm's reach, it is still clunky. Much of what this podium does can be replicated and done even better today with a simple laptop computer loaded with good software.
The last thing that I'd like to talk about is that even when courtrooms move in the right direction, they are often misled. The most notable example is here:
The problem in many "modern" courtrooms is providing each juror with their own monitor. The whole idea sounds very cool and modern, but in reality, the technology here is doing a disservice to the jurors and to the lawyers presenting. The problem with individual monitors is that you have now isolated each juror from every other juror. They are no longer learning together with eyes forward. They are now on their own and looking at their own screens, which are usually angled down, causing them to look away from the attorneys and witnesses. This increases the risk of juries disconnecting with a lawyer and/or witnesses. A better approach is to set up larger TV's and/or projector screens that the jury can focus on together. That way they learn together and their attention remains on the attorney or witness who is usually beside the screen.
Here is an example of a proper courtroom setup for the jury box:
The jury has two large LCD monitors that they can share. Their attention remains forward and they all learn together in a social way that doesn't isolate or distract any one juror.
The whole point of the technology in the courtroom is to help the attorney tell the story of the case while teaching the case to the jurors. People are much more likely to learn and pay attention when they are presented with a learning environment that they are used to (i.e. a classroom type set up where eyes are forward and the attention is on the teacher). This also helps them to feel like they are part of the experience. Lastly, a simple logistical point is that individual jury monitors can be easily damaged and they often get banged up when the jurors come in and out of the box. Plus, that many monitors probably costs more than one large LCD or projector and screen.
I'll leave you with some more photos of courtroom setup that we did in a beautiful historic courtroom: