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The Advantage Blog

  • Alexis Knutson, Christopher J. Dominic


The phrase, “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more appropriate than when applied to the use of graphics during trial. Jurors not only understand messages more thoroughly when attorneys use a combination of spoken words and images, but this information is also remembered more readily for future use (namely, during deliberations). When the information you present during trial is, comprehended, retained, and usable, jurors will be armed and motivated to more effectively advocate for your position behind closed doors.

How to successfully use graphics to convey your message is an oft-asked question of jury consultants. In the coming weeks, we will explain in a multi-part graphics series when to use graphics, how to use them well, how jurors respond to demonstratives, and finally, how to avoid the pitfalls commonly associated with the use of graphics. In this installment, we describe when to use graphics.

Today’s jurors are more tech-savvy, and tech-savvy or not, many are visual learners, so they appreciate the use of graphics during trial. If you want your jurors to understand your message and ultimately become your advocate, help them see what you say. Although the particulars of when and how you choose to use graphics is always case-dependent, graphics and exhibit boards can be the most effective solution for explanation and persuasion when:

  • Complex ideas require simplification and distillation

  • Chronology or sequence and relationships between key events is critical

  • The cumulative weight of evidence, patterns of behavior and/or events needs to be synthesized

  • Emphasis needs to be placed on key themes

  • Experts’ numbers and/or calculation charts are lengthy, complicated and “boring”

  • A case is ripe with potential for information overload

  • The case deliberation needs to be thoughtful, linear, and process-driven rather than conclusion inspired

In the world of civil litigation, no jury trial is too small to lose. With the ultimate objective in every case being a favorable verdict or outcome, good preparation demands adopting a new attitude toward visual information and visual advocacy. Use this valuable opportunity to teach the jurors about the case from your perspective; become a teacher of fact through interaction with information designed to promote understanding and persuasion. Employ the basics of information design and advocacy that are consistent with jurors’ perceptions of the world.

So, when should you use graphics? A strong demonstrative can be helpful in most parts of trial. In opening, graphics can help jurors understand the theory of the case and establish a framework or guiding construct with which jurors begin to organize and prioritize information presented during trial. In one case, the opening statement needed to make sure jurors understood that all the complexity and issues in the case simply had to be considered through our four primary themes; the “four corners of the case” was a graphic that presented the four themes, each as a ¼ square section of the PowerPoint slide. The theme was clear and details were simply embedded within one of those four themes. It was simple and easy to follow, providing a clear organizational schema for jurors to classify and weigh the importance of facts.

When examining witnesses, demonstratives can be useful for organizing facts, particularly if the witness provides significant amounts of important information. They can be tools used by attorney and witness to interact with and teach a jury. In one instance, our witness, a middle manager in a shipping company, was also a high school football coach. He was a basket case of a witness sitting down on the stand, but once we got him up, interacting with the scene of the event, the map of the facility, he was right at home, as if he was teaching his players at half-time or walking the sidelines in full command of the events and facts before him.

Graphics that provide a visual depiction of a process can be especially helpful in teaching jurors how to deliberate, providing a “verdict map” to influence the deliberative procedure, and explaining the norms and steps of deliberation. Jurors often complain that they don’t really know what they are supposed to do once they are dismissed to the jury room to begin deliberations. Strong “process graphics” can show jurors the steps to take, and the inclusion of key jury instructions can help remind them of their obligations on important issues, empowering your jurors to control the form and content of the deliberation. In one case it was this process, elevating an emotional and principled commitment to process, that allowed “our” jurors to respectfully acknowledge the sympathetic elements of the case, acknowledge the inherent emotion animating their fellow jurors, but to turn the jurors’ attention to the value of process and burden of proof as obligations in a just verdict.

Coming up in the A Picture’s Worth graphics series, we discuss how to prepare beforehand to ensure effective use of your graphics during trial.

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