Winning At Trial Through A Customized Set Of Visual Work Products

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 - 00:00

The Editor interviews Tony Canzanella, Principal in the firm Resonant Legal Media, and Guy Joubert, Managing-Principal and leader of teams of visual artists and technology consultants.

Editor: Please give our readers an overview of the services Resonant provides.

Canzanella: We call it communication design and technology for litigation. We design demonstrative evidence, anything from custom slide presentations to complex interactive tutorials incorporating custom illustration and 3-D animation. Ultimately, the medium isn't as important but our job is to help trial lawyers and witnesses communicate better with the trier-of-fact. On the other hand, our trial technology group delivers these presentations in court-they manage the evidence presentation system and work with trial teams on maximizing the use of that system.

Editor: Tell us how you got into this work.

Joubert: It's certainly a niche. I was a physiology major in college, but I worked my way through high school and college as a graphic artist. So I have this interest in science and also in design. After being an Air Force officer, I worked for a consulting company and started working mainly on patent cases. I didn't have a legal background, but when you do 20 to 30 cases a year you learn fast.

Editor: Tell us how you put this company together.

Canzanella: Both Guy and I led offices for larger consulting firms and we've also worked at AmLaw 100 firms: Guy was with Finnegan Henderson and I was with Fish & Neave. We started the company in 2006 with the goal of delivering a higher level of personal service consistent with what we were able to offer while working at a law firm. Being a company that keeps it's focus just on graphics and technology, we have more flexibility to control costs, offer alternative billing arrangements and avoid conflict issues that prevented us from working with loyal clients when we worked at the bigger service providers.

Joubert: We get to know the personal style of attorneys we work with so we can design presentations that compliment their presentation style in court. The alternative, used by some competitors, is a studio production model, where people who have never met the attorneys generate demonstratives that look the same as any of the other 20 cases they're working on at the time. Our process is more collaborative, more precise, so the work product we deliver is custom, not recycled.

Editor: How much time do you spend with the lawyers before you put pencil to paper?

Joubert: In some cases we're involved in an early case assessment, where we meet with the corporate client, the trial counsel and a jury consultant to discuss the case issues and develop a picture of what the litigation would look like at trial. So we might meet far in advance, or just a couple weeks before a hearing or trial. Whatever the approach, we come up to speed quickly so it might only take an hour-long meeting to be briefed enough to develop a comprehensive presentation. For established clients, we are often given the latitude to develop presentations just by reading expert reports and briefs.

Editor: Do you find that most trial counsel know what they want, or do you suggest ways of presenting their case?

Canzanella: It's a bit of both. Some truly have a vision that we carry through the entire process and others come to us and think they know what they want; once we have the chance to spend time with them sharing ideas and solutions, the final product is quite different from their original idea. When we understand what they're trying to communicate and what their budget is, we may have a better approach that they hadn't thought of before. That's one of the key things we offer our clients: we give them a fresh pair of eyes, someone who can look at their facts and come up with innovative and persuasive ways of presenting that they might not have considered.

Joubert: For example, Tony and I worked on an ITC case about electrical outlets and counsel had to show how several manufacturers infringed their patent. They asked us to estimate a 3-D model and animation of all the accused products. We saw no real need to do 3-D modeling or animation of the products because it wouldn't advance their case in any material way. We recommended professional photography of the outlets as an alternative. It turns out, when our fee proposal came in much lower than a competitor's, our client thought we were low-balling the estimate to get the work. We told them that showing photographs and pointing to the actual parts is more convincing than modeling something you can readily see from a photo taken for a fraction of the cost. These honest recommendations help our clients work with us as an extension of their team and not just a vendor they've hired.

Editor: During the time that you have been involved in this business, what changes have occurred?

Canzanella: The cost of the technology we use has gone down dramatically and the software is probably ten times faster than when I started in the early '90s. But the ability to get work done faster sometimes leads to bad habits in the firms we serve. There is always a sense of urgency when preparing for trial, and that will never change. Ten years ago the technology limitations forced clients to work with more lead time. Today, the expectation is that things can get done at a moment's notice so sometimes our clients wait until the last minute to start work with us, thinking they will save money. That just isn't true. Starting early and working at a moderate pace allows us to better manage resources and budgets while producing better work. Working at a frenetic pace on tight deadlines may mean more resources at a higher cost and the result is often lower quality work product because it was rushed through the process.

Editor: As you get ready for trial, and I don't know whether you can generalize about this, but do you go through several dry runs of presentations with lead counsel?

Joubert: That really depends on the trial counsel. I sat through five or six rehearsals when I worked with a client for an important hearing. But when I worked on the Microsoft antitrust litigation in DC, Dan Webb was the lead attorney for Microsoft. I had put together the opening presentation and was going to run it in court. However, he gave the presentation to all the outside counsel and for the general counsel and the secretary of Microsoft.

Editor: Do you find that when you are involved in developing a presentation that you go through different iterations in trying to crystallize the points counsel says he or she really wants?

Joubert: It's not unusual to watch the case strategy change as the presentations are developed because seeing an argument or set of facts laid out really exposes approaches that may not have been tested as rigorously before the work was developed. That aside, if clients have something specific in mind to use to visually present a point, we do it. But we also try to give them another option to consider if we think of something that may be more effective.

Editor: Do you get involved in non-patent cases?

Joubert: We have worked on all kinds of dispute-related cases - in and out of courts. We have done presentations to the Surface Transportation Board about freight charges for moving coal on railways in bid protest hearings at the General Accounting Office for the award of major defense contracts. One time, I worked on a presentation given directly to the SEC Commissioner to request they investigate a competitor. Multidistrict litigation (MDL) or mass tort product liability cases, especially in the pharmaceutical area, have been a mainstay for us, and we have been involved in antitrust cases, such as the Microsoft antitrust litigation in the U.S. and in the European Union before the Court of First Instance.

Canzanella: We have also done work for mediations and arbitrations, and are even moving into corporate negotiations such as licensing presentations and settlement conferences. Our services are well tailored to something like this, where clear, efficient communication and an understanding of complex issues is essential.

Editor: Why do you think this type of visual presentation is increasingly being used in many kinds of disputes and negotiations?

Joubert: Well, you just don't get the time in court that you used to, so a compressed trial schedule means you have even less time to put on a case. Incorporating a visual presentation is an effective way to communicate more information in less time and in a more memorable way.

Editor: The legal profession is under some pressure to reduce the cost of its services. Does that increase or decrease the demand for your services?

Canzanella: In some ways, it increases our demand. If the option is to have trial counsel generate the demonstratives, then we are a much lower-cost and better-quality option. It is important for us to consider the business case for the litigation. With that understanding, we can develop a budget that is reasonable for both Resonant and our clients. Most importantly, we provide fair and accurate budget estimates up-front, and we commit to those estimates through the engagement. What that means to our clients is no surprises at the conclusion of an engagement, no hidden charges and no markups. In light of the recent economic downturn and the difficulties faced by our clients we have implemented such solutions as fixed fee and flat rate options that further provide predictability and security around our costs.

Editor: How do you market your services, other than through The Metropolitan Corporate Counsel?

Canzanella: The best marketing we have is through referrals from existing clients. Their praise and kindness in passing the word to their colleagues is a valuable part of our growth and success. We have also received new business from opposing counsel seeing our work in court; they see how effective our work and people are, so they want to work with us the next time. In some respects every job for us is an audition for the next case. Much like attorneys, we will pursue new work and cases that interest us, or individual attorneys for whom we'd like to work because of their reputation and cases and clients they represent.

Editor: I noticed that you have expanded offices into several other markets. Has this been driven by client demand or business development on your part?

Joubert: Some of it is client demand and some is opportunistic growth on our part where really talented people sought us out. It is hard to turn down good people who deliver great work product and service. Our senior staff is full of people with more than ten years of experience, which is really hard to find in a niche business like this. On the other hand, we are careful to grow only as fast as we can maintain a consistent level of quality.

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