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Visually Shaping your Story – Zoe Littlepage

As an adult, have you ever wondered why you remember – with vivid detail – the fairy tales and stories told to you as a child? Wasn’t that moment – when you climbed onto a parent’s lap and they opened a storybook – magical? You listened to the story while you looked at colored pictures (which graphically cemented the tale into your brain). We still remember the stories of our childhood and the pictures from the story books. Time to start using that same winning combination in your trials. After all, the side that tells the best story – which the jury remembers during deliberations – wins.

Remember, our jurors exist in today’s world of sensory overload. They watch MTV. They are addicted to MSNBC. Jurors are comfortable with split screens of multiple images on their TV with words running along the bottom. In short, jurors demand entertainment. Their attention span is short and, without visual input, their memories are shorter. Jurors also expect your entire case to be quick, interesting and wrapped up in 57 minutes (including commercials). If, instead, we deliver long, boring examinations filled with technical language and legal jargon, we lose our audience within minutes. Luckily, with new technology, every lawyer can provide fast-paced excitement through basic but impactful visual aides. Visuals should no longer be relegated to openings and closings. Instead, try visually presenting every aspect of your case, from direct examinations to cross to legal arguments. And repeat the critical visuals over and over again to create a visual memory that lasts.

Plus today many jurors are allowed to take notes. Remember elementary school? When we were trained to diligently write down everything the teacher put on the board? Jurors continue to follow that early teaching and will pick up their pens and write down whatever is visually presented to them: charts, lists, important phrases. Make your points visually and there is a high chance the jurors will copy it down.

Even the driest and most boring of evidence can be made persuasive, or at least tolerable, by visual presentation. And visual presentation is no longer expensive or difficult. There are many tools available today to assist in creating impressive visual aides for very little expense. These tools have leveled the playing field. Today even the solo practitioner can easily compete visually with the large, well-funded defense law firm. Some options include:

  1. Flip Charts & Easels – Every trial lawyer should have one in every trial. Use the flip chart to present basic outlines, highlight a specific point, note a particularly important admission from a witness or just provide a legitimate reason for a lawyer to leave the podium or counsel table.
    Foam Core Boards – Using a static poster allow you to pick up the board again and again for use with multiple witnesses, without having to flip back through flip charts pages.
  2. Blow-Ups – This type of visual can be effectively used to blow up the key document in the case so that you can highlight before the jury the few words or phrase that is important. It can also be used to blow-up one or more diagrams of the car accident intersection so that you can draw on each version with a different witness to emphasis the differences between testimony.
  3. Power Point Slides – PowerPoint is no longer just for argument. Visual slides can also be used for direct and cross-examination. This use may require additional preparation but can be very effective. But always avoid images that animate or move because they become distracting. If you stop on that slide to make a point, the audience quickly wants you to move on to the next slide just to stop the irritating repetitive movement.
  4. Visually Presenting Depositions – If the deponent is a critical witness – and you know in advance that the witness will not be live at trial – you should consider filming the deposition testimony using two cameras. You can then use split screen technology to present the testimony at trial. With double cameras, the first camera focuses on the witness and is played at trial on one side of the screen. This is the same traditional, face-on image of the witness as required by the rules. The second camera is a versatile image which can be used in various ways. The second camera tapes the lawyer asking the question or any visual aides created by the lawyer or the exhibit being discussed. Split screen technology puts the images together to create a more realistic, TV-interview-style presentation. This permits the jury to see a more realistic, courtroom-type examination of the witness.
  5. Trial Exhibits – The easiest way to track and manage exhibits, even in a case with limited documents, is using electronic images. At trial, the exhibits may be presented visually to the jury using basic viewer software that allows highlighting and even clean up of blurs or marks on the documents.
  6. Witness testimony – You should get a photograph of every witness in the case: both your witnesses and the other side’s. These pictures can be used repeatedly through the case to visually re-present and reinforce that witness’ testimony.
    Think creatively: spend time thinking through each theme of your trial and decide how to best present that evidence visually.

Ms. Littlepage is Co-Chairing the Trial Skills from the Woman’s Perspective: Lean In, October 11-13 in Aspen, CO.


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