Free Software for Trial Lawyers

On a budget?   Here are some software programs that will help you prepare for your next jury trialand won’t break the bank.  Most of these programs work on a variety of platforms, but since I’m a Mac guy, one or two of them might be Mac-only.

IMAGE EDITING PROGRAMS

GIMP: www.gimp.org
Need to crop photos, modify images, or enhance images for trial?  This is a cheap (free) alternative to Adobe Photoshop.   It includes a wide variety of image editing tools.   It’s not easy to get started, but it’s a powerful resource.

Seashore: www.seashore.sourceforge.net
A simple image editing program that’s easier to use than GIMP.

Inkscape: www.inkscape.org
This is an illustration program (similar to Adobe Illustrator) that lets you create vector drawings and illustrations. It doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of the professional program, but it lets you create amazing artwork.

Hugin: www.hugin.sourceforge.net
If you’re trying to take photos of a large, panoramic area, you usually can’t fit the entire scene into a single photo (at least not without a thousand dollar camera lens).  Hugin solves that problem by letting you stitch 2+ photos together into a panoramic view.

AUDIO EDITING PROGRAMS

Audacity: www.audacity.sourceforge.net
If your evidence includes audio recordings of depositions, interviews, or police interrogations, Audacity is an invaluable tool.  With this program, you’ll be able to edit audio recordings, extract smaller portions from extended interviews, and perform other audio editing functions. 

3D MODELS / CRIME SCENE MODELING

Sketchup: sketchup.google.com
Create 3D and 2D models, apply textures, and voila! you’ve created an interactive model of the crime scene!

Sweet Home 3d: www.sweethome3d.eu
Need to layout a residential crime scene or a slip & fall scenario? Sweet Home 3d can render home layouts, furnishings, and create floorplans.

OFFICE SUITE PROGRAMS

Scribus: www.scribus.net
This program is great for producing flyers, brochures, newsletters, etc.   You can use it to create posters or enlargements for use in direct examination or closing argument.

OpenOffice: www.openoffice.org
Can’t afford (or don’t trust) Microsoft Office? OpenOffice includes a full office suite programs.   You’ll get a word processor, spreadsheet, database, graphics, and presentation programs. 

Google Docs: docs.google.com
Create and edit web-based documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.  
The documents are stored online, so multiple parties can modify them at once (beware of attorney-client privilege violations).

AbiWord: www.abisource.com
This word processing program is similar to Microsoft Word.

PRODUCTIVITY PROGRAMS

Evernote: www.evernote.com
This program works on your computer, iPhone, PDA, etc.  You can synchronize your notes everywhere at once.  It’s invaluable for jotting down notes, websites, and more.

Freemind: www.freemind.sourceforge.net
Need to brainstorm new cross-examination questions?  Trying to organize your direct-examination, but not sure which topics you should address or which order you should present them in?  Freemind is a mind-mapping program.  If you’ve never used a mind-map before, it might take a little getting accustomed to, but it will make it much easier for you to get those brilliant ideas out of your head and onto paper.

TimeBridge: www.TimeBridge.com
If you’ve ever tried to schedule a meeting with several busy people, you know how difficult it can be to find a time that works for everyone.  This online meeting scheduler allows all of the invitees to choose a preferred meeting slot, then it finds tha day and time that work the best for everyone.

Trial Lawyers: Choose Your Next Word Carefully!

After three years of law school, you’re expected to be a wordsmith.  You make your living with words, so it’s important to choose your words carefully when speaking to judges and jurors.  You want to avoid words that invoke resistance from jurors, and choose words that make it easy for them to buy.

Today you’re going to begin building the vocabulary list for your trial.  Your vocabulary list will include the preferred words that you’ll purposely use in trial (because they best tell your story), as well as a list of the words that you will avoid using because they’re weak words or they detract from your message.  Here are three quick tips for creating an effective vocabulary list for trial:

1. Create Your Vocabulary List
There are multiple ways to describe any fact or any situation.  But which word or phrase will sell your case most powerfully?  For example, here are the different vocabulary choices that a salesperson might make in a sales situation:

Rather than… Say this instead…
“Price” “Investment”
“Contract” “The paperwork,”
“The agreement”
“Buy” “Take ownership”

In this step, you’re going to spend some time creating vocabulary lists for your next trial.  On one page, list the words that create the best images for you – the words you want to use during trial (for example, which sounds better for your case: “accident” or “crash?”)  On the other page, list the words you want to avoid using.   Here are some examples to get you started:

Negative Words Positive Words
“Drunk” “Impaired”
“Accident” “Crash”
“Cops” “Law enforcement officers”
“Machine” “Instrument”
“[DEFENDANT’S NAME]” “Defendant”

When building your vocabulary list, you’ll also want to include power words and phrases.  For example, your opponents shouldn’t “say” anything.  They either “claim” it or they “want you to believe…”  They don’t “agree” to stipulated facts, they “admit” that those facts are true.  If you don’t already have a copy of Roget’s Thesaurus at your desk, pick up your copy today, and then invest some time browsing for words that will add more punch to your case.  Take a look at this example from a fraud case:

Instead of… Consider…
“fraud” “betrayed him”
“betrayal”
“double dealing”
“scammed”
“stabbed him in the back”
“cheated”
“deception”
“duped”
“bamboozled”
“deceived”
“buried the truth”
“pulled a fast one”
“plotted together”
“schemed”
“dishonesty”
“conned”
“swindled”

Don’t those words have more punch and hit you with more impact?  Invest the time creating your vocabulary list, and you’ll reap massive dividends, especially if your practice focuses on a narrow niche of cases, such as D.U.I.’s, drug possession cases, or slip and fall cases.  With a few well invested hours, you’ll be able to create vocabulary lists that you can use over and over again.

2. Eliminate jargon
In addition, you should eliminate the jargon that jurors don’t understand, as well as any “cop-speak.”  What sounds official to us actually sounds pompous and asinine to our jurors.  Here are some examples of other phrases you’ll want to modify or eliminate:

Instead of… Consider…
“Exited his vehicle” “Got out of his car”
F.S.T., L.E.O., D.R.E., B.A.T., B.A.C., B.O.L.O., P.U.F.O.D., C.S.T., etc. Use the full terms
“Officer Safety” “Because I didn’t want to get run over or get shot”
“High rate of speed” Speed is a rate, so it’s okay
to just say, “High speed”
“Tag”
(i.e. “ran the tag”)
“License plate”
“Transported” “Taken to”
“Extract” “Pull from,” “Remove”
“Proceed”
(“He proceeded to the intersection of…”)
“Went to”
“Observe”
(“I observed the vehicle swerving”)
“Saw”
“Fail to maintain a single lane” “Swerve,”
“Weave back and forth”
“Identify”
(“I identified myself as an officer…”)
“I told him who I was”

3. Eliminate “illegal” words
Finally, you should eliminate any words that will be properly objected to (and possibly cause a mistrial) because they’ve been “outlawed” by appellate caselaw (the following example relates to Florida DUI cases):

Instead of… Consider…
“Field Sobriety Tests” “Field Sobriety Exercises”
“Odor of Alcohol”
(alcohol has no smell)
“Odor of an Alcoholic Beverage”
“Pass,” “Fail,” “Standardized” You just can’t say these words
State v. Meador 674 So.2d 826
(Fla. 4th DCA 1996)

Right now, invest an hour or two to prepare your vocabulary lists.  Don’t hesitate until next week, because you’ll never get around to it.  Invest the time to prepare your vocabulary list right now, and you’ll dramatically improve the persuasive power of your arguments.  Regardless of whether you’re trying to persuade a judge, a jury, an arbitrator, a mediator, or even your own client, make sure you’ve picked the words that best sell your case.  Good luck!

Check the Fine Print

If you represent individuals or small businesses, business has probably slowed down in the last week or so, hasn’t it?  Part of it is the economy (remember: the economy is always cyclical — we’re gonna bounce back just fine!), but the main reason that your phone hasn’t been ringing as much as usual isn’t because you’ve done anything wrong, it’s just that your clients would rather spend their money on Christmas gifts rather than on legal services.

Don’t worry.  There are only two and a half more weeks left in the year, and you’ll soon have more business than you know what to do with.  But what should you do in the meantime?

You could join your clients at the mall, and do your part to keep the economy strong, or…

You could join other local lawyers for a few pints at the bar near the courthouse and exchange war stories, or…

You could stay in your office and invest two minutes per file to review every file in your filing cabinet!

“Why would I want to invest two minutes reviewing each file?  What could I possibly accomplish in that miniscule amount of time?”

Actually, it may not even take the full two minutes.  If you’re really knowledgeable about the essential elements of your cases, it may require less than a minute per file.  But with that small investment of time, you may save your case from a premature death, or set up a directed verdict for your client.

Let me explain.  Last year, I was waiting to learn when my case would be called up for trial.  The case before mine was a sexual molestation case.  I’d been told that the prosecution’s case would take about a day, and the defense case would probably take another half day.  Since they’d started the previous afternoon, I decided to poke my head into the courtroom and see how far they’d progressed, so that I could ask the judge when to expect my case would be called.

The prosecution had rested their case shortly before I arrived, so as I walked in, the attorneys were arguing the motion for Judgment of Acquittal (directed verdict).  In sexual molestation cases, these are usually pro forma motions, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard the judge announce, “The State has failed to allege an essential element in their Information (indictment), so the motion for judgment of acquittal is granted.”

Basically, here’s what happened.  In Florida, the crime of “Sexual Battery on a Child Less than 12 Years of Age” is treated differently depending on whether the defendant is older or younger than 18 years of age.  One of the essential elements that must be proven is whether the defendant is 18+ years of age.  Unfortunately, from what I gathered, the essential element of the defendant’s age was never charged and never proven during trial, so the judge had to dismiss the case.

To avoid the same problem with your cases, invest a few moments with each file and look through the language to assure that each and every essential element is listed in your charging document.   Are there special circumstances that must be specifically pled in your complaint?  If so, are they listed?

From the defense perspective, looking through each and every element may allow you prepare a J.O.A./directed verdict argument that you otherwise might have overlooked.

I know that this week’s advice sounds basic and obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded about the basics of trial practice.  Invest a few minutes looking through each of your files — I guarantee that you’ll be happy you did.