Big Talkers, Know-It-Alls and Other Jerks Not Suited for Trial

Posted on August 5, 2010 | by Eric

Have you hired someone who has no business in this business?  A trial technology consultant who’s better suited for government work of some sort?

There they are! Too bad they're not always this easy to spot.

Maybe you’ll get lucky.   You might be treated to remarkably slow responsiveness, he might not show up for meetings or even hand you astonishingly incorrect video edits before you let him drive your presentation off the cliff at the end of the bumpy, embarrassing road in court.  Maybe he’ll even show up at your office literally waving a red flag.  That’ll give you time to fix things before trial.

It’s doubtful you’ll be so lucky, so here are a few subtler things to watch out for.

1. Can’t admit not knowing something

Elaboration unnecessary.  The Know-It-All.  These guys usually know enough to be dangerous when you ask for something they’ve never heard nor conceived of before.  Ask them to explain how they’re going to accomplish what they just said will be no problem until you’ve made sure both of you are comfortable.  Without an up-front demonstration of competence, you could end up looking at (and explaining to your client) a twenty hour line item on an invoice for renaming PDF files.

2.  Talks a bunch of techno-babble that you don’t care about

There’s this one guy from college who’s a broken record about insanely high-end digital video editing gear.  Stuff that no one has outside of Hollywood (back then anyway, now you can do higher-end shooting and editing on your phone), he’ll say he either recently acquired or will be acquiring soon.  He sacrifices the mandatory binge drinking hours to memorize model numbers and technical specs from trade magazines.  In the end, he sounds like a parrot that’s grown up in a Radio Shack, only less convincing and more annoying (his affinity for crackers remains unknown, although he did have a pirate shirt).

So of course his work product is a joke, anyone can come to that logical conclusion.  But literally, it’s a joke.  The professor shows certain students his tapes (the glory days of VHS) like a secret comedy event,  starring “The Duke of Incompetence.”

This is generally the case with Big-Talkers in any industry.  It certainly applies to Trial Technology as much as anywhere else, because there’s no shortage of gearheady things to memorize and say at people who don’t want to listen.  This is a shame because giving people what they need quickly, with educated suggestions and an understanding of what they need under pressure is far preferable to hearing about lumens and switchers to anyone hiring a trial technology consultant.  Yet there are those who persist.

Saving the best for last.  The following is a 92% true story.

3.  Treats the tech from the other side like an enemy

Let’s start off by saying it’s all well and good (entertaining and delightful) for the lawyers to have a contentious relationship between each side, but that shouldn’t translate at all to the folks projecting everything onto the screen in court.

Are you familiar with the concept of learning everything you need to know about someone by how they treat a waiter?  Watch how some of the folks in this industry treat their counterparts.  Admittedly and happily, it’s rare, but when you see it, there are certain things you can count on (hint: none of them are good).

Not long ago there was a last-minute trial, with a next-day equipment setup and no one at the courthouse to contact in advance.  It’s time for the standard “meet the other tech, work out the equipment” phone call.  Once the other tech finally takes the call, he seems rushed and confused.  No big deal, he’s probably busy and just as anxious about the timing.

Will you be at the  setup so we could coordinate the projector, screen and monitors?  ”Why?”  Well because we can’t use two projectors and two screens and have double monitors all over the tables.  ”We can’t?”

He must only be kidding.  Obviously the judge won’t allow that sort of space to be wasted, we need to work out what we’re going to share.  ”We do?”  Then silence.

That’s when the “oh wow, he’s really doing this, those aren’t questions, they’re wisecracks” epiphany comes.  Opposing tech is a Classic Jerk.

So how does he want to handle it?  Bring in his own stuff and not share.  Seeing where the conversation is going (the same place his career will end up) the best thing to do is just get off the call.   After telling the lawyer, she makes a “birds of  a feather” comment and assumes it will all work itself out eventually.  No use wasting time with the other lawyers on this topic either, they have the same feathers.

What happens at setup? The judge, bailiff and clerk all hate the idea of duplicate projectors throwing extra heat and noise around the courtroom, not to mention the doubled equipment footprint.  We’re officially ordered to share the display gear.

After all that, lets crunch the numbers using the Inverse Competency to Polite Professionalism Formula™ (the formula calculates each instance of arrogance and unhelpfulness, which ultimately determines exactly how bad a trial tech is.  This one goes to eleven) and rattle some Jiffy Pop around on the stove.  The Fail Show is about to begin.

For starters, he doesn’t understand synchronized video was designed to quickly edit by page/line entry.  You know, like the way you need it to be in court.  He was stays up all night (and mentions it every morning) editing the old fashioned way on his laptop.  Then in court, he keeps the entire editing interface on screen for the jury while playing the depo video in a little window (this is like showing PowerPoint slides in the program window as you create them, only more distracting and less effective).  Whenever a ruling is made to strike a page line, he freaks out and tries to edit it by pausing, yanking the audio cable, putting on headphones and cutting out chunks of video he needs a hard copy transcript to find.  All in front of the jury.  Then the computer locks up, and the judge sends the jury out while he reboots and edits some more.

He rarely can find the documents his attorneys ask for, even with simple exhibit numbers.  It looks like he’s scrolling up and down a list looking for them instead of typing numbers.  This is a trick he must have learned in “Brazen Inefficiency 101″ at Jerk Store University.

His computer crashes a lot.  A lot.  At least a dozen times and he doesn’t start out with a backup.  The first day when asked if he has a second computer,  he scoffs and says “my office is only 5 minutes away”.  Yeah.  That’s helpful.  ”Your honor, instead of pushing a button to fix this problem, I just need 15 minutes minimum to leave the courthouse, get another computer, come back up here through security, boot it up and make sure it works on screen.  Make that 30 minutes because I need to move the data to it as well.  This could take nearly an hour, we may as well break for lunch.”  Incidentally, he needs to do this by end of the second day.  It still doesn’t stop the constant reboots.

The irritable judge grows increasingly irritated, because we could have been finished by Friday.  Could have, but now have to keep the jury into next week thanks to constant reboots, cable swaps and “I need just a minute to find that” moments.

It should be painful to watch, yet thanks to those first impressions and fact that in the midst of this comically pitiful performance, he struts around during breaks like the cock of the walk, schadenfreude washes over us like a daily dose of double rainbow in the park.

So there are some bad tech consultants out there, is it that big of a deal?

All of this is relevant to trial technology consulting not (only) because it’s fun to laugh at a Classic Jerk, Know-It-All or Big-Talker.  They represent a larger threat to your client than annoyance and frustration.

These cautionary stereotypes can all make the trial or pre-trial tasks take longer, wasting time and money.   When a trial team has to hang around over a weekend and finish up on a Monday or Tuesday, that’s a huge avoidable problem.  And it does happen.

Genuine competence breeds genuine confidence.  These three have little of either.  Save your client some money, and yourself some headache by watching for their red flags early in the process.

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