This story is part of our Lawyer Stories series which shares vignettes of one’s high and low (and sometimes even funny) moments in the legal profession.
It was the day of closing arguments in a major case against a big defendant. The defense had been using their own AV team to handle the computers and projectors to show the exhibits to the jury during proceedings.
As we were walking into the courtroom that morning, the person in charge of the visuals runs up to us in a panic and says “I don’t know what’s wrong, the equipment’s not working.” I told the head attorney, who was set to give the closing arguments shortly, that I would take care of the issue. I knew if he started worrying about that, he would be off his game when it was time to address the jury.
I went over to where the AV person was to help them figure out the issue. When I got there, the projector wasn’t working and the computer wasn’t working. After about 20 minutes of fiddling around with every wire and cable imaginable, we discovered the power strip wasn’t plugged in. As soon as we plugged it in, everything was fine and closing argument proceeded without a hitch.
Flash forward, months later, we’re finishing a different trial against the same defendants. We walk into the courtroom on the morning of closing arguments, when the AV person, a different individual from the first case, runs up to us in a panic saying the projector isn’t working and they don’t know why. I immediately realized what was going on and I turned to him and said, “Plug it into the wall, because you have it unplugged right now.”
His face fell as he tried to figure out how I could’ve guessed what he was up to. He walked away, plugged in the power strip, and miraculously, everything worked again. Their plan was to make us panic right up until the moment the attorney had to start talking, at which point they would discover their “mistake” and plug everything in.
It might seem like a petty and insignificant thing to do, but causing the attorney even a few minutes of panic right before closing arguments can make a big difference during trial. If they’re too busy worrying that the slides won’t show up correctly, or that they’ll have to wait around for everything to get set up, they won’t be as effective or confident in front of the jury.
It’s like when a football team calls a timeout right before the kicker is set to kick a field goal; except in this case it’s like if they told the kicker “we lost the ball!” and then they find it a few seconds before the play starts.