In this episode of the IMS Insights Podcast, we speak with trial presentation advisor Jeff Dahm about utilizing trial presentation consultants amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Teresa Barber: Jeff, I want to welcome you. Thank you for being our guest today on the IMS Insights Podcast.
Jeff Dahm: Great. Thanks for having me.
Barber: Tell us a little bit about your background. How did you first become interested in trial presentation?
Dahm: Well, I graduated from college in 1996 and I got a job. I went to the career center. There was no internet in '96, so I got a job. I went to the career center, found a job at a jury consulting firm as a research analyst and I didn't know really much about the law and I definitely hadn't been in a courtroom at that point in my life but I went right in and I worked for a pretty prominent jury consultant setting up jury research projects around the country and it was really fascinating. It was new for me. I didn't know anything about this and I knew it was for me. I mean I was always a very technical person. I was always setting up computers and helping people with their stuff and their computers and on the emerging edge of computers always but I didn't really work in computers then.
Dahm: So, when I was working at this jury consulting firm, there was a woman who had her boyfriend was starting up a company that did trial presentation. Well, I didn't know what trial presentation was, so she's like, "I know you'd be great with him. Why don't you go meet him?" So, I went to his office and met him and they hired me and then I started being ... Working in trial presentation. So, it was ... I made the shift from jury consulting. I mean I knew I liked trial consulting for sure. I knew it was a job for me, I just didn't think that the jury consulting job was the right fit at that point in my career. So, I used all my technical skills and got this job and so what we did was we started doing trial presentation around the country and it was pretty new in the early 90s.
Dahm: In the mid-90s, it was really new. I mean there wasn't a lot of trial presentation. It's like I always had this desire to perform and to be on stage but I have no talent. I can't sing and I can't dance but I knew this was my performance. This was my way to be performing because I was really technical and I was really good at being technical and being good under pressure. So, when I started doing this, this satisfied my performance itch that I've always had and I loved it and it was just great and I knew that this was going to be my career.
Barber: I was going to say, it sounds like you walked right into the fire and at a really early stage and-
Dahm: I did.
Barber: That role, so there really wasn't a whole lot of ... In terms of best practices and models, you've really had to be there at the forefront for a lot of that.
Dahm: Yeah, it was really exciting. It was just ... I graduated with a degree in environmental analysis and design and thought I was going to save the world and all of a sudden, I'm in this new career and I was like wow, this is exciting. Traveling the country, setting up courtrooms, working with attorneys. I mean I was 23 years old and this was truly exciting for me. I mean it was just ... I was over the moon about this job, this new job I had.
Barber: So, kind of the nexus too of technology, which is a passion, right? And then like you said that so much on the line for presentation in the middle of a trial. What exactly ... And I'm sure that it's evolved too, right? Since the mid-90s, late 90s to today, what are the fundamentals? What does a trial ... A hot seat consultant, a trial technician do?
Dahm: Sure. Well, as a basis that hasn't changed in the 25 years I've been in the business, what hasn't changed is that you're putting on a show and you're responsible for everything that the jury and the judge see and it's a big, big responsibility but that's your job and so your job is to organize the evidence in your trial presentation software and help the attorney put together the show that you're going to put on in the courtroom. So, you’ve got to do run throughs, you practice the night before. You make sure you have all of your highlights ready. You make sure you have your deposition clips. It's putting together any sort of evidence that you would ever need to show a jury and organizing it and being able to call it up really fast in the courtroom and that really hasn't changed much over the 25 years. That's the job.
Dahm: I mean sometimes you do less, clients want to do more. Sometimes you do a lot more. Sometimes you're full throttle. Sometimes you just set it up for them and they go on their own, but it just depends. It's just all-encompassing in trial for the evidence.
Barber: Very interesting. It sounds like there's a lot that leads up to it, right? It's not just showing up and-
Barber: You're putting a presentation forward, how important is a focused strategy for trial presentation? Does that matter?
Dahm: Yeah. Oh sure. I mean every trial presentation consultant has their own sort of method of operation that they do. For me, it's getting in with the client very early, making sure that they know that I'm here to help them and I'm going to take care of everything, being very organized with anything they give you that they request that you want, you reply back fast. You have to reply fast. You have to get the work done quick and you have to be very efficient and also, you have to be able to speak to attorneys very well. So, that's the key is you have to be able to roll right into their world and be able to talk and work just as though you were one of them.
Dahm: So, you're going to different attorneys all around and everybody has different work styles and so the key of a great trial presentation consultant is to be able to meld into the trial team that you're working with and that is the most important thing. I now schedule a lot of trial techs for courtroom trials and what's really important in a strategy is a culture fit, to make sure that this tech fits in with you, that you kind of click because I find that the clients that I do the best job for, I click with them. There's just like a bond, kind of like something you can't explain like when you meet someone, you click, if you click, then you're great but I can also make myself click if I have to and that's the differentiation in a great trial presentation consultant is you blend in, you make yourself blend in in order to let them trust you so that you can be effective in court.
Barber: I was going to say because there's a lot of trust that gets put in you or in a trial consultant technician because there's ... Really, that attorney has to be able to say, okay, I know that this needs to appear at this point and you've got to be able to pick up those cues, so that's really interesting to have.
Dahm: You have to be able to click, yeah there has to be trust, you're right. You're so right that trust is key. Your whole case, their whole case kind of depends on you, what comes up on the screen. So, when you meet these clients the first time, you have to come in there showing them that you can command the room, you can command a presentation and you can get the job done and those are the really key things that I look for in consultants too when we're placing them with attorneys is they have to be forward. They have to be forward thinkers. They have to be proactive people because those are the ones that do the best in court.
Barber: Yeah. And I want to ask you too, because we're here, Jeff, in the middle of summer 2020 and we are in a ... Really, in a lot of ways, what's an unprecedented time, a lot of concern everywhere for colleagues, for communities dealing with COVID-19. It's also the pandemic, we have a global pandemic, placed an unprecedented amount of stress on the court system and we've even seen remote trials popping up. First, it was remote hearings, lately remote trials in some places like throughout California. Can you talk to me a little bit about what you've been seeing from clients, what you've been hearing from the ground and how important it might be for a dedicated trial presentation consultant or someone with that expertise when you're thinking about what that completely visual and virtual setting ... Can you talk to me about what you're hearing?
Dahm: Yeah, so as I'm sure everybody has realized in the past few months being at home is that most people are not fully comfortable with the scenario of talking to people over a video conference. It's not natural. It could be exhausting. There's a lot of other layers that people don't realize that come with that. As a consultant working around the country, I have been and trial presentation consultants have been working in video conferences, working at this method for years now and this is a very comfortable place for us to be. This is ... And also, when you are presenting, because ... Okay, so courtrooms that ... Most courtrooms are now pushing towards having Zoom hearings, having Skype hearings. This is a really, really common thing that's happening more and more and I tell you, if a courtroom is not doing it now, they're going to be doing it soon.
Dahm: This is the way of the immediate future for the next few years and you need to be prepared and when you're giving an argument, just like in court, there's a lot of things to think about beyond your argument and you should let a consultant handle that for you. Let your trial presentation consultant run your PowerPoint. You have to let them help and we can display in a video conference the same as we can in court. You can put things up. You can share the screen and this is something that trial techs and trial presentation consultations are good at, manipulating multiple different views for things to go on the screen, coordinating with people and tech. I mean this is our wheelhouse. So, you are doing yourself a huge favor by having the trial presentation consultant on a call for you in a hearing. I mean it's invaluable as far as I can see.
Barber: Yeah, I was going to ask you, so it sounds like some of the same principles that you apply in trial presentation in a physical courtroom, how, can you talk to us about how you apply those fundamentals and those principles to help clients prepare and move cases along right now?
Dahm: Sure. Well, and I've heard this from my clients too, the cases are not going away. Even though, the public ... The in-person hearings are not happening, the cases aren't going away. They're still moving forward. You're still going to have to go forward with your discovery. You have to ... Your expert witness disclosures, I mean everything is still happening. So, it's important that you use your trial consultants as you always would to help move your case forward. Send them your video if you have video depositions that need to be prepared. It still has to happen. Let's say you have to submit your video deposition designations for your trial that's in July, that still has to happen. These consultants, and we're ready to go, we are ready to help you just like we always are when you got to be in court. We are just as ready to help you with your online hearing. I mean it's just as important, so you should treat it that way.
Barber: And we're seeing ... We're kind of touching on this, you mentioned like just a lot of hearings moving to Zoom or Skype and if we're not seeing that now, brace for it because it's coming. So, what tools and resources would you recommend right now for litigators or attorneys just preparing for a virtual in-court scenario, maybe don't have one scheduled yet but want to be prepared?
Dahm: So, we are all doing our homework here on the presentation side. I know all the trial techs that we work with and also everybody at my firm, other consultants in general, we're all doing our homework and we're all making sure that you all can ... That the attorneys can do all of their hearings online. I know that we've done a lot of Zoom hearings so far. I know that some consultants are creating a virtual courtroom scenario in order to have everybody log in. I mean there's just ... There's really a lot of work been going on, on the consultant side to make it easier for clients when they do have the hearings. So, reach out to your consultants because they want to help you and they also know what's happening. They know. They have their pulse on the industry, especially this ever-changing industry as we speak. So, they want to help you and they're very, very eager to help. Trust me, I'm one of them.
Barber: Jeff, could you ... Are you seeing anything about how you think that the pandemic is potentially affecting software that's used in the firm and the platforms in the industry?
Dahm: Definitely, sure. So, trial presentation software has evolved over the years, but I feel like this is going to cause it to evolve even more. I mean I've been testing a lot of software, all of our software that we do use in court to see that it works on a Zoom hearing and it does but I feel like now, the trial presentation software, they're going to start to create another layer in their software for online hearings because to make sure it's not buggy because you are still doing a presentation over the internet through another platform and I would think that these trial presentation software companies are going to align with Zoom and create a software to present with Zoom. I mean these are things that I can see coming down the pipe that will be really exciting. I feel like this, as we know, necessity is the mother of invention and this is going to force companies that make trial presentation software to incorporate the video conferencing aspect to it to make it a little easier for us trial presentation consultants.
Dahm: I mean we can do it now. I can display a PowerPoint. I can click through. I mean I'm quite fluid with it on a video call because I do it all the time. I can click through OnCue. I've had a couple of Markman so far online that I was able to click through my documents, go back in my PowerPoint. It's very fluid. However, I see there's a couple of points that could be better and I know in the next six months, you're going to start seeing PowerPoint coming out with online things in integrating into their online applications, same with OnCue, Trial Director, pretty much all these things that we use in court, they're going to have to start talking to Zoom because I know they're going to want to make it easier for everybody, which is great. So, it's just really great but us consultants are on that pulse, so if anybody gives me a call, I can tell you what's going on.
Barber: Hold on, I want to ask you, you raised that suggestion, thinking about the other hot seat operators, the industry, a lot of independent contractors that maybe don't work with a firm like IMS or The Focal Point, what advice do you have for other folks in the industry right now with so many courts closed?
Dahm: Yeah, so you have to pivot your skills. I mean as a trial presentation consultant, you understand that you have certain skills. You can work under pressure. You can work technically under pressure. You can display evidence fast. I mean these are all things that are going to be needed to do in a video conference hearing too. Assisting in these online hearings is going to be crucial. I mean I think that since this is the beginning of this online hearing generation, clients are going to be slow to react at first, just like in general with the trial presentation consultant.
Dahm: You're slow to bring people on and then once you have your first hearing and you realize that your PowerPoint is not displayed effectively, then you're going to give us a call. So, also, a lot of independent trial presentation consultants can record online depositions. That's a thing that I've seen a lot of trial techs that are getting into right now is to assist clients in online depositions. So that's been a big thing for a couple of my consultants I work with too.