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Morgan Smith

5 Reasons Why Attorneys Should Try Interactive PDFs for Case Presentations

Recently, while creating graphic timelines for clients, I explored new ways to use Adobe InDesign to produce interactive PDFs for these timelines. By “interactive PDF,” I mean a dynamic document that has layers of information in multimedia formats (e.g. photos, video, animations, infographics) that an attorney easily can scroll through while presenting the case chronologically.

My attorney clients have been quite excited about the end results, so I want to share the power of interactive PDFs with others and explain why it can be such an effective way to present information at mediation or trial. Given the functionality it allows, your ability to create a powerful presentation is almost endless.

Until a few years ago, a “fancy” PDF included hyperlinks that could be clicked to open websites in a browser. Now, the technology allows a designer to embed not just hyperlinks but almost any type of information, such as animations, active buttons for navigation and most anything else you can find on a good web page. You therefore can create an electronic document—a PDF—that can bring a case alive for a mediator, opposing counsel, adjuster or jury in a way that organizes a great deal of information along an engaging narrative arc. It also easily can be electronically delivered to and shared with others.

I started developing this format after I sampled various timeline software on the market and wasn’t very impressed with the programs, as they either had a clunky look (such as TimelineXpress from InData) or were a little too unusual for trial presentations (such as BeeDocs). My lack of enthusiasm about others’ products led me back to the old-fashion method of creating a custom timeline with basic drawing software.

But then I realized that the features of InDesign software really open up a lot of new possibilities for traditional case timelines, and the final product can be exported to a PDF. Here are the key things I love about using this format:

1. The versatility of the PDF format, with wide use in the legal field:

PDFs are pretty much universally accepted and used in the legal community, and the reader for PDFs is a free download that almost any attorney already has installed. Keep in mind that any technology that requires attorneys to install new software on their computers properly is a non-starter. In the first place, larger firms would have to install the same software on all their computers and are reluctant to add anything new. Attorneys need to work with formats, such as PDFs, that allow them to distribute the work product to others (such as opposing counsel) whom they may want to give it to without having to show it to them in person.

2. Interactive PDFs organize large amounts of information and allow users to navigate easily and view selected parts:

One of my favorite features of interactive PDFs is the ability to create “multi-state objects,” which is a mouthful that basically means pictures stacked on top of each other. You then can scroll through them or individually choose which picture to display. This function allows you to place a whole lot of graphics on a single page to allow the user to decide how much to view. It is much more effective than simply attaching a collection of photos at the end of the document.

3. Embedded video is powerful:

A case presentation of information organized along a timeline, or as a summary of key issues, comes to life when video—such as deposition testimony of a witness, 3D animation of a scene, or any other moving pictures—complements the text. With InDesign, you can set the video to play right in the PDF itself, or you can open it full screen to play on the internal player of the computer.  (This is one area where you need to pay attention to technical formatting for the end user. If you embed a Quicktime movie, the viewer needs a Quicktime free viewer installed for a PC; however, if you embed a Windows Media file, most law firms use PCs and it will run with no additional software.)

4. You’ve created your opening statement:

Whether or not the case settles at mediation, you have done the hard work of editing the case and putting it into a multimedia presentation that you could very likely show to the jury in substantially the same format. If the court rules on any evidence that you have in the PDF before opening statement, you can put your PDF up on the screen and go through all the issues covered, and generally it is not difficult to alter the presentation to respect the court’s ruling. You basically have a trial in a box ready to go.

5. You can use it with your iPad:

InDesign 5.5, the current version, offers enhanced support for making presentations designed for the iPad. With this support, you can put an interactive presentation on an iPad with even more functionality than a PDF or SWF (Shockwave Flash) file, including being able to show 360-degree views of objects (which are really just a whole bunch of photos that you quickly scroll through), zooming into photos and other features. The only downside with this iPad support is that actual creation of the iPad document is still a bit tricky.

I’d like to share one of Cogent Legal’s interactive PDFs, but the ones I’ve created recently involve ongoing or confidential matters, or are very personal in nature; hence, they are not available for public download. Here, however, is a screenshot of one to give an idea of how the format looks. This is from a wrongful death case a few years ago, in which Bob Arns of The Arns Law Firm and I represented the surviving wife and children of the decedent, Joe Ranft, who was killed in an automobile incident. Ranft was one of the great talents at Pixar Animation Studios who created several of Pixar’s beloved characters and stories.

Screen shot of an interactive timeline in PDF format.

As you can see, the timeline bar stretches across the top, and when the cursor is moved to different points on it, then different text boxes, images, maps of the incident scene and videos appear. Additionally, a soundtrack plays music as the PDF scrolls through the part of the timeline that summarizes his life. This allows anyone who is viewing the PDF to jump back and forth to different points of information (indicated by the dark gray bars on timeline). Many layers of multimedia information are thus organized in a compelling, easy-to-navigate way.


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