By and large, I’m a fan of technology in the courtroom. I think access to searchable briefs, documents, and deposition testimony can aid an attorney in all sorts of proceedings. Of course, the benefits gained from a handy laptop only apply when a lawyer employs the technology correctly, unlike this morning.
I recently agreed to help out another attorney in a lawsuit. My colleague, whom I’ll call “Bill,” normally handles transactional matters, not litigation. Consequently, when a client he represents on corporate issues was sued by her partner, he sought my assistance.
The case involves a dispute between the co-owners of a business. According to the plaintiff, Bill’s client locked him out of their offices and seized all personal property for herself, including goods belonging to the plaintiff.
Yesterday, Bill asked me for a big favor. The plaintiff had filed an emergency application to regain access to the business premises and recover his alleged property. The Judge agreed to hear the application at 9:00 a.m. today, and Bill requested that I argue the motion. Knowing I’d have so little time to prepare, Bill said he’d act as my courtroom assistant. He also promised to store all the pleadings and exhibits on his laptop and pull them up as needed.
During the hearing, the plaintiff’s lawyer referred to certain disputed items on a spreadsheet Bill had submitted in opposition to the application. The lawyer referenced this property by the spreadsheet’s line numbers, rather than by name. He insisted those numbered items constituted his client’s personal possessions, rather than joint business property or the defendant’s goods.
In order to respond, I asked Bill to call up the spreadsheet on his laptop, which he did. I turned the screen toward me and accessed the controverted lines. Noticing an obvious flaw in my adversary’s logic, I informed the Judge: “Your Honor, unless our male plaintiff wears women’s clothes, it seems highly unlikely that he, rather than the female defendant, owns ’17 skirts,’ ’57 blouses,’ and ’46 panties.’”
Inwardly smirking, I pulled my eyes from the laptop screen and glanced at the plaintiff’s lawyer and then the Judge, to gauge their reactions. Oddly, both of them seemed far more confused than blown away by my decisive observation. I learned why moments later, when Bill grabbed the laptop and took a closer look at the file he’d selected. Soon after, I found myself apologizing to the Judge and my adversary for “inadvertently referring to the wrong spreadsheet.”
The moral of the story, as Bill saw it, was: if you’re going to store personal and professional databases in the same directory on your laptop, make sure to give the files vastly different names. Otherwise, instead of the inventory of business property – titled “inv.xls” – you meant to access, you might mistakenly click on the similarly named “hinv.xls,” and call up a catalogue of your home’s contents, including the clothing in your wife’s closet.