Guest Shannon Lex Bales is the author of “The Trial Presentation Companion” and an experienced educator and consultant who helps attorneys and firms follow standards and models for presenting cases using today’s legal tech. When firms go to trial, a lot of them are just “winging it” with the software and equipment, workflow, and skills they need to present a case. Paralegal professionals will find opportunities through education and certifications to professionally prepare and present data, video, and evidence using today’s technology.
We’ve all seen professionally staged “trials” on television shows. So have the jurors. There’s an expectation firms will present a compelling story digitally in the courtroom. What story is your firm telling and how?
As Bales says, “Basic legal technology skills are foundational for today’s legal market.” Understanding the use of legal technology in the courtroom is no longer an option. Keep up or fall behind. The skills you learned 10 years ago aren’t today’s skills.
Hear how to actively pursue the tech skills you need to add to your resume as a modern paralegal professional.
Tony Sipp: Welcome back to the Paralegal Voice. My name is Tony Sipp and I’m here with Shannon Bales, our very distinguished guest that we have with us today. We’re just going to jump right into the conversation. Shannon, first of all, welcome.
Shannon Bales: Thank you. Thank you for having me. This has been a long time coming. I’m glad to be here.
Tony Sipp: It’s very true. I introduced you as Shannon Bales, but really your full name is Shannon Lex Bales. Can you explain your middle name?
Shannon Bales: Well, with a middle name like Lex, it seems like I was born into doing a law, Lexis, Latin for law.
Tony Sipp: Right.
Shannon Bales: I wish I could say that my parents had the foresight to name me after my career ambitions, but reality is my dad’s middle name is Lee and my uncle’s name was Rex and he mixed them together to make Lex. My family being from Oklahoma, none of them know Latin, so I’m pretty sure it was just a good happy coincidence.
Tony Sipp: That is excellent. That’s a great story. We’ll go into your expertise. Most of you don’t know, Shannon, if you can tell a little bit about yourself. I saw you walk across the stage and when — the ILTA Award, which is a very distinguished award and you won the Lifetime Achievement Award. Is that correct?
Shannon Bales: I did. Yeah. I was so honored to be recognized for that. I immediately got the calls for, “Are you on your way out? How old are you?” I’m still here. I got kids to put through college. I am going to be working for a long time, so don’t count me out yet.
Tony Sipp: I don’t think anybody will. In fact, you wrote a book that people can go out and purchase and maybe we can get that on the website at some point. The book is called “Trial Presentation Companion.” Everybody should run out and grab that book. It’s a very interesting read. Shannon, tell me why did you decide to write that book?
Shannon Bales: Well, you know, there’s a lot of standards around the entirety of the EDRM, so the litigation lifecycle. And at the time, there were no standards around trial presentation. And what I found was that firms, courts, governments were really doing it wrong. I mean, really, it’s a tragedy especially when you see a multimillion-dollar firm walk into the courtroom unprepared. And over time, I had the amazing testament of working at Munger Tolles & Olson to kind of perfect the craft and find what work.
I was incredibly fortunate to have a firm that has committed so many resources to trial. It really blew my mind that there were firms out there that would say something like, “Well, the client didn’t pay for a hot seat, so you’re just on your own when you go to court.”
Tony Sipp: Wow.
Shannon Bales: Or they would trick some poor paralegal or new associate, or IT person to go to court with them with little to no experience and say, “You’re going to juggle all these other tasks and do that easy trial presentation stuff on the side.” What law firms get wrong, there’s a couple of buckets where they get wrong when they go to trial. One is, do they have the right equipment and software? Do they have the right workflow to go to trial? And do they have the right skills to go to trial?
I think hot sitting itself is a profession onto itself. So, if you have a mildly complex trial, it’s probably a good idea to have a professional hot seat there. If you’re a paralegal or a new associate or something along those lines and you have a limited set of data and hopefully no video to cut, you know, it’s something that’s approachable to you and can increase your skill set and potential opportunities at the firm, or as a consultant and get you out there and maybe making some more money and doing some more interesting things
Tony Sipp: There you have it. There you have it. To tie into what you just discussed with us, as a trial tech specialist, can you tell us why jurors prefer to see technology used during trials?
Shannon Bales: I think it’s kind of the TV effect, right, where people have seen all of these great performances on TV and they expect a great performance out of the legal team that is doing the trial that they’re attending. They might be let down if they don’t live up to the expectation of not wasting their time and making it interesting and telling a good story.
All of those things are elements to a good performance at trial.
Tony Sipp: You set up like it suits the show and make it look like it’s an incredible, incredible atmosphere just like on TV?
Shannon Bales: Well, you know, I wrote this book on trial technology and you might be surprised to know that my favorite piece of technology in the courtroom is actually the document camera. I think the document camera, if used appropriately and with discretion, you know, at the right time, that it might be the most effective tool, one of the most effective tools in the courtroom because decision makers have become slide-blind after the first 30 slides. And people are going up and not — legal teams are often making poor decisions about what they display in court and how they display it. The way I think about it is that you should have a varied display that operates different pieces of technology in the courtroom. I like PowerPoint. I like good trial presentation software and then boards and the document camera, all to hold decision-maker interest and keep everyone kind of on their toes as to what is being displayed at any given moment.
What I say I like about the document camera is that you get some movement, right? It sounds dumb, but you get the document camera and there’s a technique to it where you put your document under it. You get some thick markers and don’t be afraid to put your hands under there and big broad strokes, scribble, do all these things because that’s interesting to decision-maker, right? Look, it probably wouldn’t be interesting to my kids, but if we’re all trapped in this courtroom, you got to find a way to keep it interesting because you always have the sleeping juror, right?
Tony Sipp: Right.
Shannon Bales: Movement helps scribbling the colors. They can’t read ahead if you’re going to write like the three points you’re going to make or something along those lines. The first thing I like is the document camera followed by the use of color in trial presentation software because I hate the yellow wall. Everyone uses just yellow highlights.
Tony Sipp: Right, right.
Shannon Bales: Attorneys are afraid to let people let their teams kind of go wild with it. I’ll tell you my experience has been. When using color and underlining and all the circles and features like that, it keeps people interested and I’ve heard that from jurors at every single trial I’ve ever used that technique in. But attorneys don’t want to let you go wild with it because you might underline the wrong word. My counterpoint to that is just go with it. Let go. You got to keep going there.
Tony Sipp: Take some risk.
Shannon Bales: Yeah, yeah.
Tony Sipp: Awesome. You’ve been quoted as saying basic legal technology skills are foundational for today’s legal market. What did you say that? Can you expand on that?
Shannon Bales: Well, I truly believe that everyone needs to work from a foundation of technical competency. Over time, we’ve seen everyone have to level up their technical skills. I mean, think about where we are today in terms of writing an email or creating a document using Word versus — I’m sorry, I’ll update myself, 10 or 20 years ago where an assistant then call the secretary, would type out the email for an attorney, right?
And now, we’re getting into further and further expectations where people should be with technology skills in their toolkit so to speak. I think that’s always raising and I think people make some assumptions sometimes about their technical skill sets that we should always be embracing new skill sets as we move forward.
Tony Sipp: Okay. You teach as well for — I believe you’re an adjunct professor for UCLA as well as Santa Ana College, right?
Shannon Bales: Yeah.
Tony Sipp: Is this what you are teaching your students? Are you letting them know that your skillset can’t just be what it was before? It has to be a higher level so that — because jobs are looking for that. They’re looking for a skill set that is above the basics.
Shannon Bales: Yeah. I mean, not only do I tell my students that, I have to tell myself, right?
Tony Sipp: Yeah, it’s true.
Shannon Bales: Because we all go through periods of reinvention. Hopefully, we analyze ourselves over time and kind of think about where are we, what do we need to do to stay relevant and keep current with the skills that we need to have.
There’s been times where I’ve gone, “Geez, I need to hit the books,” because I don’t know what the heck that person is talking about.
Tony Sipp: Right, right.
Shannon Bales: So, I hit the books or go talk to my peers and that’s why I think podcast like this and ILTA and EDRM and ACEDS and groups like that are so great at the learning function that we have. The biggest challenge I have as a manager is keeping everyone’s skills up. Everything’s changing so rapidly. Creating content and finding the right content is the biggest challenge.
Tony Sipp: Yeah, I understand that. Shannon, we’re going to have to take a quick break and we’ll be right back.
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Tony Sipp: All right. Folks, welcome back. My name is Tony Sipp and we’re here with Shannon Bales. Shannon, do you believe that technology is a great equalizer and if so, why?
Shannon Bales: I absolutely believe that. And I have, you know, probably the stress lines on my face completely because I’ll tell you that the most-worthy opponents from a technical perspective, you know, just take the lawyers out of the trial, we shouldn’t take the lawyers out, but let’s take the lawyers out of the trial for a second. But the most-worthy opponents that we’ve had when it comes to exchanging exhibits and having relevant content on the screen and a good presentation environment have come from firms that have been extremely technically competent. To this day, I still mention and I don’t remember the firm name, but I think the most effective firm that we went on technical wise was a two-attorney firm with a single paralegal.
Tony Sipp: Wow!
Shannon Bales: And that paralegal did Yeoman’s work, I will tell you. I mean, they did it all. It was one of the most challenging cases to make sure we kept up in a — they raised the bar in other words when we got to trial and we had to adjust our own strategy so that we stayed relevant with the expectation that they need, and that’s not usually the case. Usually, we’re the ones leading because we have the great commitment to technology and we’re the ones doing it.
Now, we held our own. We did great. When you have the commitment of a firm behind you, we can make changes. But I’ve been really shocked at times with especially big firms that don’t have their house in order and are giving themselves a disadvantage when it comes to going to court, the thing that we’re all here to do, you know, the end widget that we make is going to court and you’d be surprised how many firms don’t have a workflow associated with getting a laser pointer to the guy or girl at trial that needs a laser pointer or the batteries or whatever it is when they’re two blocks away from the courthouse, right?
Tony Sipp: Right. There’s RadioShack anymore.
Shannon Bales: There’s no RadioShack anymore, but it’s as if they haven’t given any thought that something could go wrong and we need to get them something. When I was a consultant, we heard things like, “Yeah, I don’t have permission to leave the office.” It’s pre-pandemic. We don’t have permission to leave the office to go two blocks to take you the laser, whatever it is.
Tony Sipp: Wow!
Shannon Bales: Or I have five calls ahead of you. I can’t imagine telling someone at trial there’s five calls ahead of you.
Tony Sipp: No, that would flood.
Shannon Bales: My other, I guess, my (00:14:47) firms that are big dollar firms that don’t have the adequate equipment. It’s a spend. It costs money, but you also are generating high quality work product that enhances the value of your lawyers which is exactly what you want to do.
Tony Sipp: Exactly. That’s well said. To name, one thing that you believe legal professionals — you’ve been touching on it the whole podcast, but can you name one thing that you believe legal professionals need to evaluate themselves on?
Shannon Bales: I mean, I think we hit on it a little bit, but I think we should all be just in a constant state of self-evaluation. I’m looking at things now, and maybe I’m behind by not already having this like the information privacy professional certification, maybe, or I’d recently took the LinkedIn Microsoft Jen AI Certificate, went through that. There’s so much out there and navigating that process can be frustrating, but I think as long as you’re making a commitment to leveling up your own skill set, you’re not always going to hit the target on the head with whatever the skill set of choices for the week like Jen AI came on us really quick, right?
Tony Sipp: It’s very quick.
Shannon Bales: But you’re not going to be hurt by getting that Certified Information Privacy Professional Certificate, right? That’s not going to hurt you. Knowing how to use trial software or do some sort of AI routines in relativity isn’t going to hurt you.
Tony Sipp: Right. Having those letters after your name is a benefit.
Shannon Bales: I think yes and no. For a while, I went and got the certifications and I don’t know that they were really respected industry wide, but I think there’s been kind of a turn in the last couple of years where I think the certifications are becoming more important. I don’t think it hurts you to get any of them to kind of think about what’s going to help your career the most where it is. There’s a lot of great people in the industry. I Look to like Sheila Grela out of the San Diego Paralegal Association, Joy Murao. There’s so many great people out there, you know, Mary and Kaylee from the EER Firm.
Tony Sipp: Of course, yes.
Shannon Bales: They just will do bend over backwards to help connect you with the right resources. I would say, along with all that education, participation in the industry is a key to success. The reason why I’m doing this podcast today is you and I met up again at a networking event over Joy Murao’s Practice Aligned Resources. It was an okay turnout. What was it, 20 or 30 people? But I would think that LA law firms could generate 500 people or 1,000 people to show up to a networking event.
Tony Sipp: I take your point.
Shannon Bales: We see a lot of people who kind of go, “Well, I don’t know why this is happening or that is happening, but did you attend anything?” No. “Did you participate in some industry event?” No. “Did you go to some Saturday thing every night?” No. Participate and I think it builds the connections that you want. The more important connection that I’ve received out of participation is education, so being able to go to someone and say, “You know, I don’t have the budget to pay for your software class.” Reveal has been really good to me in terms of going to them and saying, “Hey, I don’t have budget to get the education that you guys offer. Can you guys help me out? What can you do?” They have been so amazing at helping us and they have a great online education program.
Tony Sipp: Yeah, I’ve seen it.
Shannon Bales: That leads to a certification. I love their program. That only comes with the relationships that are out there. I always tell people participation is key. I tell my new students, participation is key. None of them, you know, half-half of them — you can say that and then 2 out of a class of 20 actually send you a LinkedIn request.
Tony Sipp: Right. It’s key to your career. I do the networking thing and I tell people, “You got a network. You want your next job but that person’s probably at the paralegal association right there, you know.
Shannon Bales: Well, people don’t know what networking means and I think it’s more than just showing up. It’s participating and that means at some point someone’s going to need a job and you’ve got to lift a finger. You got to check your own firm’s website to see if there’s anything available and take that extra step to make the introduction. Okay.
Tony Sipp: There you go. Good move.
Shannon Bales: Whatever it is. Hey, Joe Blow, Jane Blow needs a job and they’re looking. Times are tough, times are not tough, whatever. No one in HR is going to — if that person turns out to be a bust, no one’s going to turn around and come back to you and say, “You gave us a headache.” They also might say, “Gave you some hard time about it,” but at that point that they’ve gone through half of dozen people, you’re not vouching for their personal credibility. You’re just saying, “Here’s a person I know that I met and maybe you should consider him for that position.” You got to do something.
Tony Sipp: Yeah. We’ll be right back with our conversation with Shannon Bales.
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Tony Sipp: Shannon, just listening to you, I’m always fascinated about the things that you’ve accomplished. Did this career choose you or did you choose it?
Shannon Bales: I guess I was locked into it, you know. This is a long time ago. One of my first professional jobs, semi-professional jobs, I was a clerk at the County of Orange and I started doing all the databases for the County of Orange for my group and then people outside of my group started having me do their databases. I wasn’t a database person. I was a clerk and they were paying me like $10.25 an hour, and they started having people come that were consulting at $250.00 This is a long time ago, still making a lot, $250.00 an hour.
I can remember saying when I had my review, “Can I have the three steps 75-centan hour raise?” And someone saying, “Now, your desk is messy so you’re getting the two-step raise,” and I said, “Well, but I have provided a million dollars of value to the county last year.” And they say, “Well, we really value clean desk.” Well, my desk is still messy. My desk is really messy now that’s why you get the blur, but that kind of motivated me to think about things. Where the luck came in, I had two very fortunate events, a couple of fortunate things happened. One, I was kind of ticked after not getting my three-step raise in the county.
Tony Sipp: Sure.
Shannon Bales: My dad, who was a lifelong senior county employee was a property tax guy in charge of boats and planes. One day he was outside when he smoked. He doesn’t smoke anymore, smoking a cigarette, and some other dude came up and started smoking a cigarette and struck up a conversation and he was like, “Well, my yacht needs to be re-evaluated for tax purposes.” Of course, he was an attorney. This is where the luck came in. My dad helped him out. It was, “Hey, my son, I think he’s a computer guy.” I wasn’t really a computer guy, but, “I think he’s a computer guy. You have any jobs at that place you’re working at?” And he goes, “Here, let me give you a name,” and he threw out a name.
I went, I’m like, “Dad, come on. You’re embarrassing me. These people don’t want me.” I went into it with total reckless abandon, the interview where you don’t really —
Tony Sipp: You don’t care if you get it or not, yeah.
Shannon Bales: So, you get an offer, right? And they hired me and I was just sitting there literally praying with my dad saying, “Man, dad, if I go from $19,000 to $23,000, I’m out of this county job.” Their first offer was like $45,000. I was like an IT professional, kind of a glorified helpdesk kind of person at the time where they were rolling out computers and hardware, and all that kind of stuff. I loved it. I loved what I was doing, but I was an IT guy and then I ran into Ron Deutsch who is an industry legend as well. He was at that networking event.
Tony Sipp: Yeah, it was such a small group. I’m sure I shook hands with him.
Shannon Bales: Ron gave me some litigation support skills.
The firm I was at was like, “Hey, you know, would you rather do this thing over here?” I really like went back and forth, “What should I do?” I was so interested in it because it got me involved in law and technology that I loved it. It’s been something that I’ve loved doing ever since and I haven’t really looked back, and there’s been so many key people along the way like Joy Murao and Trish Fettig who was my first manager back at Gibson, and all these people who took an active interest in my development and helped me out and gave me good advice. As a young person, you don’t always — without a mortgage and without kids, you don’t always make the best decisions when you’re at work, right?
Tony Sipp: Right.
Shannon Bales: Because you’re thinking a lot. At the time, you could just walk out and walk into another technology out of anywhere, but they really helped keep me grounded and on a good path. That’s how I got my start and my opportunities came by participating, as I mentioned before, and making myself available for those — I’ll give you an example. When I was going to Cambodia to work for the UN for a period of time, I could bring — they said, “Hey, if you want an intern or someone, we can hire someone or bring them on short-term.” I made that opportunity available to anyone I met. And out of the everyone that said, “Hey, I wanted to go,” one person actually went.
Tony Sipp: Wow!
Shannon Bales: I helped that one person go, but probably only two or three ever followed up on the opportunity to go to Cambodia and be part of the UN war crimes tribunal. It wasn’t a huge commitment. It was like two weeks or a month or something like that. It was life-changing for them and so you got to be ready for something good to happen to you and then be available to let it happen.
Tony Sipp: Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. That’s great and I love it you give back as well because you’ve been given up your Saturdays to help students and kids on this path to be you, if not, better not you when they get done. I applaud you for all of your efforts. Apology for being here. I really wanted to do this for a long time and I will be hitting you up regarding Maui. I’ll say goodbye. This has been the Paralegal Voice. Have a wonderful day. See you next time.