Where’s your evidence? DNA, fingerprints and expert witnesses

Evidence collection has evolved significantly over the years. During the early 1900s, for instance, fingerprinting was a new technology that allowed law enforcement investigators to link individuals to crime scenes and provided them with real physical evidence that could be used in court to gain a conviction. DNA profiling is much more recent and was first introduced in 1984 by Dr. Alec Jeffreys, an English researcher studying the patterns found in various human DNA strands. For both types of evidence, enlisting the help of a qualified expert witness to explain the results can provide added help for attorneys in presenting their cases effectively.

Fingerprinting and classifications

In 1880, Henry Faulds first made the case that fingerprints could be used to identify suspects in criminal cases. This theory was published in Nature, a major scientific journal of the time. Faulds’ theory went unremarked for many years and was eventually appropriated by Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin and an unashamed plagiarist who based his own forensic theories on Faulds’ work without ever giving proper credit to his source. Galton developed a system by which fingerprints could be classified and distinguished. This method was soon superseded by more intuitive systems that were adopted by Scotland Yard and other law enforcement agencies sometime in the early part of the 20th century.

DNA and the RFLP test

Although James Watson and Francis Crick are often credited with the discovery of deoxyribonucleic acid, better known as DNA, the real honor should be given to Dr. Friedrich Miescher of Switzerland. Dr. Miescher isolated DNA from wound dressings; Watson and Crick were primarily responsible for identifying the double helix, a double-stranded DNA molecule. There is no such controversy, however, regarding the innovator who made DNA testing possible. Dr. Alec Jeffreys developed a test that could distinguish individuals from each other based solely on their DNA patterns. The restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) test required a large sample of DNA from each individual for comparison purposes, making it relatively impractical for use in criminal investigations.

Polymerase chain reaction testing

Although polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests had been around since 1984, it was not until the latter part of the decade that these processes were applied to DNA. PCR testing offered significant advantages over RFLP in practical use:

  • PCR tests can identify matching patterns using much shorter strands. This allows the evaluation of older DNA samples that may have been degraded or have broken down over time.
  • Less material is required to make a valid comparison using the PCR testing method.

Forensic scientists can provide valuable testimony and evidence regarding the likelihood that a particular individual was at the scene of a crime or that they committed incriminating acts.

Today, mitochondrial-based testing offers even greater pinpoint accuracy in determining whether two sets of DNA match up. For attorneys, obtaining testimony from expert witnesses with experience in fingerprint and DNA evidence can offer added support for a particular version of events. Remote depositions from acknowledged experts in these fields can be of benefit to both the prosecution and the defense in presenting their cases to judges and jurors in the courtroom setting.

 

How 3-D printing can assist in presenting evidence

Advances in 3-D printing techniques have made a splash in the business and academic environments and have been used to create custom parts and models in a wide range of industries. The items produced by 3-D printers have been used to reconstruct fossils, to create prosthetics for patients, to fabricate educational materials, and to produce an impressive list of consumer products. The use of these devices in the legal field, however, has been somewhat limited. Understanding how 3-D printing works can help your legal firm make the most of these new technologies in presenting evidence effectively.

The basics of 3-D printing

Also known as additive printing, 3-D printing techniques create custom objects by building them one layer at a time according to the specifications entered by the computer operator. This contrasts with most other methods of fabrication, which typically involve shaping of or subtraction from materials to create the finished item. Top-end 3-D printers offer exceptional accuracy and precision to allow the production of extremely small parts for industrial or medical use. The precise results provided by 3-D printing techniques have also been used to recreate forensic evidence to assist law enforcement officials in investigating crimes.

3-D in the courtroom setting

Some companies are now offering 3-D services to legal practices to assist in the presentation of evidence in the courtroom setting. By creating models of critical exhibits, attorneys can clearly demonstrate various injuries and other critical elements of their cases:

  • Broken bones can be accurately reproduced from X-rays to demonstrate the severity of the impact sustained in an auto accident
  • Crime scenes can be reproduced at a smaller scale to reinforce a particular point or perspective
  • Fingerprints can be duplicated and enlarged to show points of comparison

Because 3-D printed items are not actual evidence, they can be safely handled and examined by jurors in the courtroom setting. This can allow a more hands-on approach to evidence presentation while ensuring that jurors have access to the most accurate information on which to base their decisions.

Integrating 3-D presentations into legal cases

In many cases, 3-D models are actually cheaper to produce than comparable computer animations. As 3-D printers and printing services continue to go down in price, the use of 3-D models in the courtroom is likely to increase. By establishing a relationship with a reliable 3-D reconstruction firm early on, legal firms can ensure access to these valuable evidence presentation tools and can make a positive impact on jurors. This can establish your firm as a leading resource for top quality representation and can ensure the best possible outcomes for your clients.

New technologies are revolutionizing the way legal firms like yours do business in the courtroom and in the office environment. Remote depositions, iPad projections, and 3-D models can help you to deliver the most effective arguments on behalf of your clients. By staying on the cutting edge of these advances, you can ensure that your presentations make the right impression on every member of the jury.

 

The value of tech training for your legal staff

Modern software platforms can streamline your legal processes and provide your staff with added collaboration tools. Proper training in these new technologies is essential to ensure the most effective deployment of cloud storage platforms, video conferencing services, remote depositions, and collaboration software suites in your workplace. By investing in training for your staff, you can reduce their learning curve and ensure the most positive results for your software implementations.

Different learning styles

Allowing for differences in how the members of your legal team learn new skills can take some of the stress out of the training process. Some staff members may learn best by doing; by allowing them to test out the new software on their own, these tech-savvy staffers may be able to master these technologies more quickly. Others may require visual aids like videos or flowcharts to make sense of the new software platform. In-depth documentation should be provided for all members of your legal team as a reference and guide to more complex processes and functions.

A relatively small investment in training can pay off in improved morale, increased productivity and greater employee engagement with the learning process. By putting new software tools to work in your office, you can enjoy the benefits of today’s technological age.

 

5 techy tips for managing security in the office

For many attorneys, the availability of new technologies has led to increased digitization and online storage of documents and data related to past and current cases. These advances can allow members of the legal team to access information remotely to allow anytime, anywhere editing and updating of critical information. Implementation of cloud computing strategies and centralized data storage requires added attention to security for sensitive client information. Here are five helpful tips for protecting legal data in the modern computing marketplace.

Engage your employees

An important first step in establishing best security practices for your legal practice is to bring your staff members on board with your new policies. Explaining in clear and simple language the steps required of your legal team and the reasons behind these security measures can increase staff buy-in and can ensure the most positive results for your practice. By presenting the same information in printed form, you can reduce the risk of errors by your valued legal team.

Prioritize your data

Not all data is created equal. Determining the most critical information and making arrangements to protect and back up this data can help you manage the next steps of your security implementation more effectively.

Create tiered levels of access

Maintaining certain information on a need-to-know basis can help your legal practice protect sensitive client information from unauthorized access or accidental disclosure. By creating tiers of access within your organization to provide added control over your data, you can reduce the risks to your clients and the potential legal liabilities for your law office.

Evaluate your cloud services provider

If you choose to store case information with a third-party cloud services provider, it is critically important to read the fine print regarding how your data will be protected in various scenarios, including the following:

  • What happens to your data if the cloud services provider is forced to shut down for financial or other reasons?
  • Who has access to your data at the remote location?
  • Will your data be stored alongside that of other clients or on a separate server?
  • How is your information protected against unauthorized access from outside and inside the provider offices?
  • Are redundancies and backups in place to ensure the integrity of your data even if a specific server is corrupted or fails altogether?

Ensuring continuous access to and protection for information stored in the cloud is essential for your overall data security plan.

Seek professional help

The intricacies of encryption can be challenging even for the most computer-savvy individuals. By working with a professional firm to manage and oversee your data security needs, you can often achieve better results and increased safety for sensitive client information.

These five steps can form the foundation of a solid security strategy for your practice and can ensure that you stay on the right side of confidentiality requirements and protection of your legal data.

 

How cloud storage can streamline required disclosures

Cloud storage solutions are becoming more and more prevalent in the business community. In the legal field, allowing secure login access to specific documents in the cloud can actually speed the delivery of relevant documents to opposing counsel and can ensure full compliance with all regulations pertaining to both the sharing of information and the securing of that same information against unauthorized access.

Tiered levels of access

Depositions are a good example of documentation that must typically be shared among all members of a legal team. Attorneys may also be required to share this information with their counterparts on the other side of the case. By creating tiered access to the specific documents and evidence that pertain to a particular court case, legal professionals can eliminate tedious copying duties and can reduce the effort involved in delivering these materials directly to the opposing counsel.

Along with the improvements to disclosure procedures, cloud storage solutions can allow improved collaboration among the members of your legal team. Modern software platforms allow tracking of all changes and edits to case documentation for greater accountability and accuracy. In this way, these advanced software suites can boost productivity during the critical lead-up to the big day in court.

3 top apps for managing time for legal professionals

Modern software tools can make it easier than ever before for attorneys to track billable hours and manage their time more effectively. Here are three of the best iPad productivity apps for busy lawyers.

  • Time Master + Billing

 

Recommended by the American Bar Association for attorneys who must track billable hours on the go, Time Master offers a number of ways to track time spent on various cases. This iOS app offers several organization options and can be easily uploaded to desktop or laptop computers for easy time management in the future.

  • Fastcase

 

Attorneys can access U.S. statutes, cases, and precedents through this convenient and searchable app. Fastcase provides the utility of its higher-priced counterparts and can be downloaded for free from iTunes, making it a truly cost-effective solution for law library access.

  • Court Days

 

A customizable calendar program that allows quick and easy calculation of the available court days scheduled between two dates, Court Days can be fine-tuned to show court holidays and other dates of interest. At less than a dollar on iTunes, it’s a solid investment in time management.

These three iOS apps can save time and effort in tracking billable hours and maintaining productivity both in and out of the law office setting.

Get organized: How online transcripts lighten a lawyer’s workload

For many attorneys, juggling the particulars of a heavy caseload can prove daunting at best. Online access to deposition transcripts can assist in managing evidence more effectively and can provide added flexibility for legal teams in sharing critical testimony and important information assets during the preparatory stages of a case. By choosing a court reporting agency that offers fast turnaround on deposition transcripts and online access to these resources, legal firms can ensure optimal time management when organizing evidence and preparing to represent their clients in court.

Going high-tech: iPads and iPhones in the legal profession

As portable technologies become more popular in the public marketplace, the role of smartphones, iPads, and other tablet computing devices becomes even more critical for legal professionals. Specialized applications designed specifically for Android and iOS devices can provide added help in presenting evidence in the courtroom setting, accessing transcripts of depositions and sworn statements and in managing larger caseloads and multiple cases effectively and conveniently.

Court reporting: Why flexibility is so crucial to cases

Court reporting companies like Atkinson-Baker are essential in managing the sizable number of depositions and statements required to pursue class actions in the legal environment. These companies deliver flexible court reporting services that can help attorneys to manage the full range of depositions, statements, and evidence collection activities needed to achieve success in class actions and large-scale lawsuits, making them a valuable asset for legal professionals in obtaining settlements and awards for their clients.

Class actions

Class suits, also known as representative actions, are cases in which a few plaintiffs stand in for a much larger group of affected individuals. The amount of money awarded in these cases can potentially amount to millions or billions of dollars and can represent a major financial loss on the part of the defendant or defendants. Product liability cases and large-scale disasters like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are among the highest profile class actions and often attract significant attention from the press. To prove these cases in court, numerous depositions and sworn statements must typically be obtained from potential plaintiffs to demonstrate the degree of damages sustained by the average victim of the event or product.

Depositions and statements

Trained court reporters like those employed by Atkinson-Baker can travel to locations convenient for defendants and plaintiffs in class actions. This makes it easier for these individuals and businesses to provide evidence crucial to their cases.

The Deepwater Horizon class action

The explosion of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig on April 20, 2010, resulted in extensive damage to fishermen and small business owners along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. These injured parties experienced significant financial losses in the aftermath of the incident and sought compensation from BP, Halliburton Energy Services, Transocean, and other companies deemed to be responsible for the accident. The U.S. Department of Justice also filed a civil suit against BP and other companies involved in the drilling operations in the Gulf for violations of the Clean Water Act. On Sept. 4, 2014, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier found that BP was grossly negligent; this finding paved the way for private individuals and class action participants to recover punitive damages from the companies found responsible for the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Pursuing the case in court

While most class actions do not receive the attention given to the Deepwater Horizon case, the process is similar for all types of representative actions. To file a class action, four elements must be present:

  • Commonality refers to the similarity of damages experienced by the individuals included in the same case. Cases with widely disparate types of damages sustained due to the same event may not be suited to resolution through class actions.
  • Adequacy is achieved when the individuals chosen to represent the class are capable of doing so effectively.
  • Numerosity is required to ensure that a sufficient number of potential plaintiffs exist to justify class action status.
  • Typicality is ensured by choosing the most representative cases to stand in for the other plaintiffs in a class action.

These four requirements must be met to file a class action and provide useful guidelines for attorneys in determining whether a particular case can be managed in this way.

The role of the court reporter in assisting legal firms with class actions is a vital one. The court reporting services provided by Atkinson-Baker are designed specifically to provide optimal flexibility and maximum accuracy for depositions.