Matthew Easton on how legal tech can help level the playing field
Published in 2018 Southern California Rising Stars Magazine on June 4, 2018
When Matthew Easton joined Easton & Easton in 2009, the firm’s senior partner—W. Douglas Easton, his father—didn’t even have a computer at his desk.
“I’ve seen the amazing trials he’s done,” says Easton. “And I felt like adding technology would help make him so much more effective in the courtroom. I wanted to push us toward that.”
So Easton brought in trial-based applications and cloud-based storage systems—technologies, he says, that “allow us smaller law firms to level the playing field with the massive law firms.”
In the courtroom, Easton primarily uses TrialPad, but he also puts Keynote, a presentation software program, to good use.
With TrialPad, the plaintiff’s attorney says, “we can move freely in a courtroom and pull up any exhibit on the fly. We can pass it off to the witnesses and have them mark up a document right in front of the jury, or highlight a specific feature in a document that makes it pop the way a jury would see it on an evening news segment.”
To use the software, all you need is an iPad; but contingencies should be anticipated. At his first trial, Easton brought along hard copies of each exhibit, a second computer and a second iPad. “You’ve got to be prepared for the alternative,” he says. “You’re hanging your shingle on that.”
Thereafter, Easton became the second attorney on each trial. He became, he says, “the indispensable trial technology guy.”
Though having a server system that allows attorneys to connect from outside their firm was a costly endeavor when Easton started, cloud-based computing became much cheaper in the following years. After considering a handful of options—including Dropbox, iCloud and Evernote—Easton settled on CASEpeer, a management system tailored to personal injury and litigation work. “It’s been hugely beneficial for managing a lot of cases,” he says. “We can give clients more attorney time, because the things that required attorney time can be handled more efficiently.”
In 2015, Easton also began teaching a class on legal technologies at his alma mater, Whittier Law School, when the dean heard of Easton’s successes. Half the class is informative: students learn the available technologies. The other half is practical: students prepare for and complete a cross-examination and a closing argument using trial tech.
“Technology can really level the playing field for them—whether it’s at their future law firm, or if they go out on their own,” says Easton.
Easton tells his students to find the thing that will make them invaluable. For many, trial technologies and cloud computing may be that thing. In his three trials, and numerous arbitrations and mediations, Easton has yet to see the defense side using new technologies. In one trial, in fact, the defense asked him to help present their exhibits.
“I agreed out of courtesy,” he says. “It’s still not quite as effective for them, because they can’t use all the features. But it helps them, for sure. ... Yet I don’t see any of them doing it themselves. There’s this fear factor that prevents the attorneys that have been doing this for so long from changing what they do.”
Part of it is a generational divide. It took his older brother, Brian, a year before jumping.
“There’s plenty of room for more innovation,” Easton says, “and I keep trying to stay up on it. It’s a moving target. You don’t want to get to the point where it’s passed you by.”
Easton’s Favorite Trial Apps
TrialPad: My go-to app for exhibit management and presentation. It can be set up to present the exhibits wirelessly from your iPad. As you move through the courtroom, it allows you to highlight, redline and call out segments of exhibits on the fly with a few taps of your finger.
Keynote: My preferred presentation tool for opening and closing. On the iPad, I can set up the screen to show an image of the next slide along with my notes for the current slide. It ensures my transitions are clean and on point.
Timeline 3D: If your case is timeline-heavy, this can be invaluable. The timeline is animated and allows you to swoop in and out of key moments.