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Technical Difficulties: What to Do When Gadgets Fail in Court

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

There's no question to it, using technological gadgets during a trial, or even just a hearing or scheduling conference, has made the lawyer's life increasingly easier. Using laptops, smartphones, tablets, digital projectors, and other devices can make a big difference, not just in saving time, but also in keeping organized and making presentations to the court. Electronics, which were once banned, are now becoming commonplace.

But what do you do if a device fails? Or worse, fails mid-presentation? Below, you'll find some tips on what to do, and what not to do.

What Not to Do

1. Don't Hit Your Device

You may want to give your device a whack, but resist the urge. It's a rare day that the good old whack will fix anything, and you'll just look silly.

2. Don't Swear or Panic

Losing your cool is never a good idea. And while technological snafus can bring out the worst language known to man, you know that the First Amendment does not trump courtroom decorum.

What to Do

1. Keep Calm and Notify the Court

If your device fails mid-presentation, such as a projector bulb burning out, your tablet inexplicably going dark, or a laptop being in the splash zone of a spilled water pitcher, politely and calmly asking the court for a few minutes can give you the time you need to fix the problem. In the UK, one justice notably allows people to take cell phone calls during court. Meanwhile, a justice in New York, sent 46 people to jail over an errant cell phone ringing. So ... exercise caution.

If a court will not allow you any time, you can have a colleague or somebody you can trust from the gallery focus on the tech failure, while you try to keep going as best you can. Note: at trial, a judge will likely allow you to have time to fix the failure, but the time spent will probably get deducted from your time to present your case.

2. Turn It off, Then Back on Again

The easiest way to fix any device is turning it off then back on again. Sometimes this involves more than just turning the switch on and off. You might have to wait 30 seconds or a minute. You may need to unplug the device, or use a paperclip to push a recessed reset button, or hold down a few certain buttons for a period of time. As such, you should not use any tech you are unfamiliar with, unless you have a tech person with you at all times. Minimally, you should know how to reset, restart, and turn off a device.

3. Have a Backup Plan

If you plan to use tech in the courtroom, have a backup plan for when it fails. If you have your docs on the cloud, and there's no WiFi access in court, you better have a hard copy handy, or the files stored on a local external hard drive as well, or your own WiFi hotspot. If you're going to rely on a digital projector, make sure you have a backup projector (or at least backup bulb) in case it fails.

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