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VIDEO CONFERENCING AND DIGITAL CAMERAS
By: Paul Bernstein, Esq.

By now you should be active on the Internet in both your professional and personal life. While surfing the Internet, you have no doubt seen full motion video clips and lots and lots of high-quality photos and graphics. What is being done on the Internet can and should be used in our daily lives as attorneys. Here are some suggestions and ideas.

Video Conferencing

Video conferencing is an affordable reality today, particularly for law firms that have corporate or municipal clients or are involved in high-value litigation and business matters. It wasn’t too long ago when video conferencing via telephone lines required an investment of $50,000 to $100,000 or more.

A new offering in this arena that has caused much excitement is the IntelŪ TeamStation™ System (version 4.0). The system is based on the Intel PentiumŪ II processor and is a turnkey high-performance system that runs on the Windows NT 4.0 operating system. The system includes a complete hardware and software suite for ISDN and Local Area Network (LAN) video. The system provides video conferencing with 30 frames-per-second (which is just about full-motion video via ISDN), at a cost of $10,000.00. ISDN speed is at 128 Kbps, compared to your highest grade modems today that are 56Kpbs speed. An upgrade that allows for ISDN calls at 384 Kbps has been promised for the summer of 1998, at a price in the $4,000.00 range. For more information on Intel’s video conferencing solution, go to their Internet site at: http://www.intel.com.

As this article is being written, I am experimenting with an under $200.00 video program that includes a camera and software to hook up to another computer over slower telephone lines. It is true that the video is not full motion and is very choppy, but what a technology wonder to be able to see someone over your computer, even if you have to talk to them over another telephone line.

What You Can Do With Video Conferencing

But, why is video conferencing so important? Clearly, the savings of lawyers’ time is very significant as are the costs of airline travel, local taxicab fares, automobile rental and hotel and motel costs. Here are some uses of this technology:

Business meetings: Many business meetings do not truly require face-to-face discussions. Video conferencing not only allows you to see and hear the other people at the remote location, but also to view and work together on documents. Saving the time and expense of travel and travel-related costs are common themes in all the uses of this technology.

Depositions: You are in Illinois and your expert is in California. Why not take the deposition of that expert via a videoconference? By a proper set up, you can see all that needs to be seen, and by having local counsel sit in, you can be assured that the witness is not being prompted by opposing counsel who has taken the time to be physically present at the deposition.

Expert Testimony In Court: Its very expensive to have experts testify in court. Evidence, video depositions may help solve this problem, at least in part. Why not use video conferencing to have an expert testify during the trial? Then, the direct examination can be more complete, as can the cross-examination.

Municipal Meetings: Discussions about the use of video conferencing for the meetings of the trustees of municipalities has been going on for years now. Very high costs prevented most governmental agencies from adopting this technology. Today, however, why not adopt whatever rules and laws are necessary so that quorums of trustees can be accomplished, even if a given trustee is in a hospital recovering from a broken leg or had to make an emergency trip to another city because a close family relative is sick or injured?

Appeals via CD-ROM: One of the wonders of CD-ROM is the huge amount of information that can be packed into one of those small, shiny disks. About 640 megabytes or so. This is enough room for pleadings, court orders and even full-motion videos where appropriate. Video conferencing and video techniques will, more and more, find their way into CD-ROM based appellate briefs.

Appellate Court Arguments: I have heard tell that a lawyer recently argued a case before a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago; however, only two judges were present in person and the third judge was present via video conferencing, with a TV monitor sitting on the bench between the two judges present in person! An interesting use of video conferencing technology, to be sure.

"Wired" Courtrooms: More and more effort and funds are being devoted to wiring of courtrooms around the country. We need to do more of that here in Illinois. A wired courtroom allows you to bring your case to court on your computer. Key documents are easily and quickly found via bar-code readers embedded in your trial notebook. Those documents, drawings and videos can be activated with the swipe of the bar code reader "wand" and projected unto TV-style monitors for judge, jury and all the lawyers to see. This is a technology trend that is picking up speed and if you are not prepared to understand and use these technologies, you will be somewhat at a disadvantage when your opponent is using them.

Digital Cameras and Electronic Photographs

Digital cameras put your still-pictures into a digital, computer file. This file can be copied to the hard drive of your computer and then printed out, or can be sent over the Internet to anyone you like. Digital cameras have come down in price and competition among vendors assures us that this trend will continue, so that, today, such cameras are quite affordable. At the same time, the quality of the images one gets from such devices continues to get better and better.

Here are some reasons to use this technology.

Photographs Don’t Always Turn Out

With using conventional, old-fashioned cameras, you have no way of knowing just how well pictures you have taken will really come out when developed. With a good digital camera, you can instantly see the result of your picture taking.

Communications With Co-Counsel/Clients

A picture is worth at least a thousand words. Use digital images to communicate with co-counsel and your clients. Here are some specific examples – think about your own practice and how you can use this technology now.

Divorce Cases: Your friend advises that her husband has mopped the floor with her once again. You tell her to come to your office immediately and when she arrives, you take the pertinent pictures. In such cases, getting good pictures while the evidence is new and "hot" is essential. This is a perfect and common use of this technology.

Personal Injury Cases: Pictures of a plaintiff’s client, in the hospital and in traction come to mind. Pictures of the scene. If an automobile was involved, pictures of the car from various angles. Again, key is the ability to actually see the pictures at the time they are taken.

Pictures of the Intersection: Most of us in Chicago have sat as arbitrators in the Cook County Court Annexed Arbitration program. However, each side is only allowed approximately one hour to present their case. I’ve sat in on several cases where counsel for a person injured in an intersection collision has spent 30 minutes or so to describe the road intersection, the number of lanes of traffic, the traffic control devices, etc., at the end of which 30 minutes, the arbitrators are very confused and counsel has very little time remaining to present the balance of the case. Why not take digital pictures of the scene of the accident and either have those pictures in "hard copy" or be prepared to project the digital images unto a large TV? In five minutes, you could give the arbitrators a very clear picture of the physical scene of the accident. The same, to be sure, is true of trying the case in the courtroom.

New Technology A Way of Life

New technology is a way of life for us. You can experiment with very low-cost, "slow motion" video now and if light bulbs then pop in your mind, the higher cost video conferencing hardware and software may be just right for you. Digital cameras seem a natural, and if not for use in your business, to share pictures of friends and family over the Internet.

Paul Bernstein, Esq.

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