All trial lawyers should take a lesson from the fictional advertising genius, Don Draper of Mad Men. After all, when we are in trial, we are selling a product: our client's side of the story.
In today's world, smartphones, tablets, and other technology provide us with instant gratification and constant stimulation. They also make us more accustomed to receiving our information visually. In fact, studies have shown that when it comes to memory, we don’t remember things we hear nearly as well as things we see or touch. That is why we need to show our case to the jury.
WHEN WE ARE IN TRIAL, WE ARE SELLING A PRODUCT: OUR CLIENT'S SIDE OF THE STORY
By the time we get to trial, the lawyers have spent months, if not years, studying the evidence and getting to know the players. We have had time to grapple with the complexity of the issues and remember the facts. The jury will not have that luxury. We trial lawyers have a limited amount of time to present complex information in a way that the jury can understand, believe, and remember (in the way we want them to) during deliberations. Visual aids and courtroom graphics are an effective way – in my opinion, one of the most effective ways – to do it.
Visualizing the case is no simple task. There is science behind the use of text, colors, and backgrounds we use and how much information should be on a single visual. The visuals and graphics have to be effective; it is not as easy as blowing up an exhibit and slapping it on a board. Of course, a good jury consultant and graphic artist always help if the client can afford it. Certainly, every trial lawyer should take a class in the effective use of graphics in jury trials.
What are a few examples of effective use of visuals and graphics?
You have to present your theory of the case, or theme, to the jury visually. How can we do that? You can use timelines and flow charts in closing to layout and summarize your case. A great way to present a timeline is a "build up," which allows you to control the flow of information to the jury. There will always be one person who wants to read ahead. If the juror is doing that, he or she is not paying attention to your message. So, build the case as you go, as you want the jury to have the information. If you have a long trial with many witnesses, you could also make a graphic for each witness. Use a picture of the witness where you can, give the key points pertaining to that witness, such as who he/she is and why they testified (e.g. he/she had a specific job, said X), and highlight their most important testimony given.
EVERY TRIAL LAWYER SHOULD TAKE A CLASS IN THE EFFECTIVE USE OF GRAPHICS IN JURY TRIALS
One of my favorite theme graphics was in a recent trial of mine. In the case, I represented a lawyer charged with mortgage fraud. One key element to our defense (other than his negligence, which was discussed in "Trial Series Part 1: The professional on trial in a criminal case") was that he was not an "insider." He was not at a key meeting where money was distributed and checks written. This graphic visualized his separation from that meeting and the rest of the group. I used a familiar symbol – the IHOP logo – that the jury could easily recognize and remember.
Every trial and every case is different, so the graphics and visuals will be different with every trial. What is important is that we as trial lawyers remember that the jury needs visual learning to believe, understand, and remember the information we give them. Trial issues have become more complex, the trial itself longer, and the attention span of our juries shorter. Whether or not we should use graphics and visuals is no longer a question. The question is, how can we make the most effective use of graphics and visuals given the facts, message, and theme of our case.