Is Sanction 4.1 the Next Generation of Trial Presentation Software?

by Robert Legaspi

In April 2015, LexisNexis released Sanction 4.1, which is the latest update to Sanction's trial presentation software. Two software versions of Sanction are primarily used today: Sanction 2.9, last updated in October 2012, and Sanction 4.1, the software's latest revision.

A new look

Sanction's interface has changed completely from the days of Sanction 2.9, and this is a good thing. The release of Sanction 3 back in 2011 introduced a complete rebuild of the software, giving Sanction a much-needed refresh. Long gone is the software's outmoded look and feel. Sanction's interface has been revamped with a modern polished appearance similar to the latest Microsoft Office applications.

If the user is already familiar with a trial presentation software, then they will find the interface of Sanction 4.1 easy to navigate. The new version employs a relatively intuitive interface - common Windows actions such as right-clicking bring up contextual menus that allow the trial tech to organize exhibits for trial.

Previous users of Sanction will have no trouble getting up to speed with Sanction 4.1 as the software's layout is similar to previous versions. The tree view, list view, and preview columns are still present for viewing and organizing documents and images. Synced transcripts are organized in the transcripts area where the trial tech can also edit video depositions, create text clips, and search transcripts for key terms. Video deposition clip creation employs the same procedure as in previous versions of Sanction. The user can easily switch between the exhibit, media, transcript, and presentation areas to organize and maintain the trial database. Within Sanction's exhibits area, the trial tech can also create subfolders so that files can be grouped together for more efficient organization and easier access. Demonstratives, Plaintiff's exhibits, Defendant's exhibits, and other files can then be grouped into the user-created subfolders for more logical organization within the trial database. In short, navigation features and layout of the new upgrade are polished and accessible.

Presentation mode

Presentation mode is easily the most important piece of a trial presentation software as it is the only part that the jury will ever see. Of utmost importance is the ability to display exhibits and video depositions quickly. To this end, Sanction 4.1 is successful. As in previous versions, the trial tech can quickly call up exhibits and video depositions by simply typing in the item ID. Currently, dragging and dropping an item onto the presentation screen is not supported. Presentation mode in Sanction 4.1 has basic annotation tools such as highlight, arrow, line, rectangle, and ellipse, as well as redaction and text box tools. Presentation tools include a zoom callout and a tear callout tool, which has the option of a torn page-edge effect. In presentation mode, exhibits and video can be displayed on screen side by side, 3 horizontally across or as 4 quadrants. Sanction 4.1 offers one layout when playing video depositions while the scrolling transcript font options as well as transcript highlight colors can be changed in the presentation preferences.

Example case

One nice feature of Sanction 4.1 is that it comes with an example case so that the user can learn the software with a database already preloaded with documents and video. The user can also add additional documents, transcripts, and video depositions to the example case. Sanction had the forethought to make the example case refreshable so that the user can return the case to its default state. It offers a great way to explore the functionality and the tools of Sanction 4.1.

All that being said, what's not to like?

It can be expected that annoyances will crop up with any new software revision. And it's fair to say that Sanction 4.1 has its share of issues.

No Transcript Manager

Perhaps the most notable shortcoming is the absence of a Transcript Manager to sync and repair transcripts. Oftentimes, a trial tech will need to adjust the sync of a synchronized transcript while editing clips from a video deposition. This is a simple task with Sanction 2.9 because the Transcript Manager is integrated into the software, making it easy for the user to sync and edit transcripts as needed.

Unfortunately, Sanction 4.1 does not allow for on-the-fly adjustments to a transcript's sync after the synchronized transcript has been imported into the database. What this means is that if the trial tech has created clips for a video deposition and needs to adjust the sync, there is no way to save the clips. The video deposition has to be deleted, the sync adjusted with Sanction 2.9 Transcript Manager, and then the synchronized transcript reimported back into Sanction 4.1. The upshot is that all of that deposition's clips are lost and must be recreated, which is clearly an unacceptable and frustrating situation.

No Case Editor

Another feature lacking in Sanction 4.1 is a Case Editor for making wholesale changes to the trial database. No trial tech wants to be in the unenviable position of needing to update thousands of database fields in the middle of a trial without a Case Editor. Sanction 2.9 makes it easy to make these changes because it has a Case Editor utility integrated into the software, allowing users to quickly search and replace database fields. This is an indispensable timesaver when a trial tech needs to batch-rename files, update file paths, volume names, or change a myriad of other fields in the database. At the very least, Sanction 4.1 needs to incorporate a barebones Case Editor to batch-rename files.

No synchronized exhibits

A great way to focus the jury on key documents is to display an exhibit on the screen while playing a video deposition. Known as "synchronized exhibits," Sanction has had this capability since its earliest software versions. Attorneys utilize synchronized exhibits quite a bit to highlight important documents. Sanction 4.1 does not currently have a synchronized exhibits feature. It is an unfortunate shortcoming that Sanction will hopefully correct by implementing synchronized exhibits in a future software release.

No warning when duplicating files

Trial database maintenance is part of the daily grind during the course of a trial. Exhibits are constantly revised and deleted. It is not uncommon for a single exhibit to be updated multiple times to redact info, add pages, or conform to a Judge's ruling. A basic rule of all trial presentation software is that all files in the database must have a unique name. Sanction 2.9 alerts the user when a duplicate file name is imported into the database. The trial tech is given the option to overwrite the existing file. Sanction 4.1 doesn't give any warning to the user when a duplicate file name is imported and simply adds "-dup" to the offending file ID in the database. One can see a worst case scenario where the trial tech is unaware that a duplicate file name is in the database and the wrong document is published to the jury, resulting in a scolding from the Judge or even a mistrial.

No find missing files feature

One feature of Sanction 2.9 that trial techs use every trial day is the "Verify File Locations" tool, which lets the user know if a file cannot be located by the trial database. It goes without saying that it is critical that every single exhibit and video deposition can be found by the trial database. Unfortunately, Sanction 4.1 does not have a Verify File Locations tool. In fact, Sanction 4.1 does not actually read the file from the original location. The software automatically makes a copy of any imported documents and places them in the default case directory and the database reads the file from that directory. A trial tech's worst nightmare is that an attorney will ask for an exhibit to be put on the screen and, for some reason, the file is nowhere to be found. Whether the file has been accidentally moved, deleted, or otherwise, nothing can take an attorney out of their rhythm like a missing document. And, needless to say, an attorney who looks unprepared in front of the jury can be devastating to your side of the case.

Sanction 2.9 or 4.1?

It is difficult to come up with any argument that Sanction 4.1 is an improvement over Sanction 2.9. Irrespective of the shiny-newness of Sanction 4.1, many Sanction users still prefer to use the dated, yet more fully featured, Sanction 2.9. Sanction 4.1 still lacks some of the basic features that trial techs expect with a full-featured trial presentation software. And though LexisNexis has made some decent strides with Sanction 4.1, it is fair to say that the software is still very much a work in progress.