Most Fall semesters, law school students at the McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific, in Sacramento, CA, can partake in a unique one-of-a-kind class that is offered there as an elective. The course, “Computer Assisted Litigation,” teaches the use of technology in litigation. The law school class, one of the only of its kind in the country, was created and proposed by tenured Professor Fred Galves, a Harvard Law Graduate and former civil litigation attorney with the Holland & Hart in Denver, CO, who has been teaching law school for over 20 years. To assist with the class, Professor Galves calls on Piganelli & Associates’ principal, Tim Piganelli. Tim brings his experience and expertise from being involved in over 400 trials over the last 20 years and logging over 20,000 courtroom hours. Piganelli, who is an Adjunct Professor of Law at McGeorge, has been team teaching the class with Galves for over 10 years, beginning with the summer session of 2002. The two just completed another semester of the class.
“This was Professor Galves’s idea” said Piganelli. “Fred is very adamant about the use of visual advocacy and technology in the practice of law and uses extensive visual aids in both the Evidence and Civil Procedure classes that he teaches.”
The class takes students through the entire litigation incorporating the use of state-of-the-art technology. Students learn about eDiscovery issues such as duty to preserve, admissibility of electronic evidence, to how to develop and present computer generated demonstratives in court. One of the exercises the students must complete is to build a complete case in the CaseMap, a popular litigation management tool. The students need to take the Complaint and case evidence documents and build the case in CaseMap, then associate case facts as disputed or non-disputed. Questions are then posed to the students as if they were attorneys representing one side or the other. They are then required to answer the questions using CaseMap.
In another exercise, students are given access to an on-line data repository which holds an Enron case database consisting of over 800,000 emails and electronic documents. The database, stored in Insight by Catalyst Repository, gives the students a firsthand look and experience with an on-line hosted repository. “Many law firms are going to the cloud,” indicated Piganelli. “Professor Galves and I want to expose the students to 21st century tools and show them how to use some of the more advanced features and capabilities of a product like Insight for dealing with large document populations.” “Twenty years ago, a big document case was 40 – 60 boxes of paper. Now, it’s not uncommon to see over a million pieces of potential evidence comprised of emails, electronic documents, and database files, such as a company’s accounting databases.”
Students learned the process of searching and sorting through evidence, culling down evidence for review and production, tracking the communication between one or more individuals involved in the action, and searching and finding key documents. Thereafter, the students organize the evidence by creating specific folders in which their results are stored. Professor Piganelli can then access the students’ work results by going in to each students secure folder and evaluating the results of their work.
The final exercise is a mock trial that is conducted in an actual courtroom in the Eastern District of California Federal Court in downtown Sacramento, California. Professor Galves is given access to Judge Morrison C. England’s courtroom. Judge England, a McGeorge alumni, makes arrangements for the class to use his courtroom each semester for these mock trials, which are part of the students’ class final. For the mock trial, students develop and then present their case as though they were in an actual case and courtroom. Using state of the art courtroom technology, students make opening statements, direct and cross examinations, and closing arguments fully incorporating technology tools into their presentations
“There isn’t one piece of paper or one page of deposition transcript in that courtroom” said Piganelli. The students must build their case, load their exhibits, deposition text and video into trial presentation software on their laptop computers. “We use the courts’ installed evidence presentation system that includes monitors in front of the jury, judge, counsel tables, clerk and one for the gallery”. In this exercise students must come to their courtroom, dressed as they would for a real court appearance, and conduct the examinations, and make their statements and arguments using only their laptops connected to the courtroom system.
For every deposition in the case, a mock video deposition is conducted and recorded to a digital media for the students to use in court. Students conducting a cross examination are expected to analyze their witnesses’ deposition and create potential video impeachment clips. During their cross examination, if a witness doesn’t answer the question correctly or gives inconsistent or conflicting testimony, the student is expected to use their video deposition segment to impeach the mock witness. “This is exactly how it is done in real-life trials to impeaching a witness who had their deposition video recorded.” said Piganelli.
“I could not do this class without Tim,” said Professor Galves. “Tim gives our students a real world look at what really happens in a courtroom. In some instances, as he did just this past semester, Piganelli comes straight from a trial that he has been working, and shares with the students his experiences with the latest in courtroom technology and trial presentation.”