By: Suann Ingle
PowerPoint continues to take a lot of hits lately for being ubiquitous, pointless, overused, over-animated, flashy, over-relied upon and distracting in many different fields – education, healthcare, government, law, corporate life to name only a few. This should surprise no one, especially since it has become so widely used. In a 2012 piece, BusinessWeek estimated one billion installations of the software. That same article also estimated 350 presentations happening every second across the globe. It should also surprise no one that almost as many opinions about its evolving worth have resulted.
Its widespread use is likely similar to what Microsoft Word did to both writing (I type, Voila! therefore I write) and to the lost art of typesetting by hand (if you still double space after a period, you shouldn’t). Courtrooms and other venues of dispute resolution are increasingly wired and ready for such presentations. And with an estimated 95% of the presentation software market cornered, PowerPoint is the go-to tool many legal teams use to preview and highlight evidence they expect to come in at trial, and also to sum up the evidence that actually has come in when they argue closing. In addition, they use the software to organize their thoughts, thinking perhaps that they are saving time.
PowerPoint is an incredibly sophisticated and versatile tool, one that in the right hands can also be an effective and persuasive complement to an oral presentation in the courtroom. This essay explores the current use of PowerPoint in courtroom presentations. It imagines a higher level of quality when “beauty” is considered and applied, that differentiates from the expected, safe, pedestrian types of presentations.
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Color plays a vital role in the world around us, yet sometimes we forget about it when creating our presentations. This article addresses a simple, yet effective way to create messages your audience will remember.
by Ken Lopez
Over the past three decades, law firms have figured out that litigation best practices include the extensive use of visual aids, the regular use of a trial technician to manage electronic evidence at trial, and the value of conducting one or more mock exercises. Each of these practice areas has developed in response to specific problems that exist in bench and jury trials alike, and there is an art and science (and about a $250 million industry) that exists around litigation consulting.
So, as more large litigation is pushed into midsize firms as a cost containment measure, I notice something interesting. Most midsized firms just don’t know how to use litigation consultants, and what might look like cost savings is going to yield troublesome results later. After all, we figured all of these problems out once in the 1990s, and an industry exists to provide solutions.
So in the spirit of offering the midsized firm, or frankly any firm that is not an AmLaw 50 firm, a solid primer on what’s been learned these past 20 years, I offer the following 16 lessons:
1. Using Litigation Graphics Yields Better Results: It’s beyond “broad scientific consensus,” it’s just a fact, Litigation graphics provide better results. This recent 2013 study on the effect of visual evidence on juries [PDF] does a good job of summarizing the science of litigation graphics.
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By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
A recent blog post written by a juror in the trial of Jim Fayed, a gold trader convicted of arranging the brutal murder of his estranged wife in a Los Angeles parking garage, included some rather colorful descriptions of the prosecutor’s use of demonstrative graphics:
…And then there were the assistant DA’s unnecessarily omnipresent PowerPoint slides.
Here are some actual quotes:
“If Jim Fayed didn’t do it, who did? BATMAN?” Click: Batman slide.
“The defense is offering you a buffet of explanations.” Click: buffet slide.
Effective trial presentation is an art, and litigators should use every effective tool at their disposal to practice and hone that art. But when the techniques call attention to themselves is when “art” becomes “artiface.” Some would point to this example and say, “See! This is what happens when litigators wed themselves to PowerPoint and other presentation crutches in opening and closing.” But the problem in this case is not the use of visuals and PowerPoint, but the way they’re used
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Witness contamination or tampering is something that rarely comes up in high-stakes litigation, but when it does, it’s typically met with foundation-shaking consequences.
In a recent matter, our client wanted to visually make the point that nearly all of opposing witnesses’ testimony contained cross references to other witnesses’ statements. In addition, when these witnesses were asked under oath about the other witnesses’ statements they relied upon or cited to, many of them were quite unfamiliar with the actual content which they had included in their own statements. Unbelievably, some witnesses testified that they had never even read the other witness statements.
Originally, our trial team wanted to attach a summary of the evidence supporting this argument to their brief. However, since their text version of the chart spanned 3 pages and they were constrained by a judicially imposed page limitation, they decided to forgo the attachment and defer presenting support for this point to the oral argument. Our client, knowing that 70% of the population is composed of visual learners, tasked us with developing a more concise, yet visually effective way of presenting this evidence at a later hearing. The VisuaLex consultants were able to transform 3 pages of dense text into a single base illustration with a handful of repetitive building screens that put some meat on the bones of the argument. The “web-like” quality of the graphic visually communicated the “contamination” aspect of the issue.
We repeated that visual foundation in subsequent screens, but only highlighted the reliance on other witness statements for a particular witness, so we could add relevant testimony showcasing their lack of knowledge of actual content and/or acknowledgement of never reading the statements they relied upon. Finally, we implemented a VisuaLex standard, by crafting a title that succinctly told our story and gave the “takeaway” of our argument.
After the hearing, our client happily reported to us that the Tribunal found this graphic series to be extremely helpful in understanding the facts buttressing our argument and, in fact, actually laughed when the graphic made its appearance on the display screens.
Do you want to know how we can transform your case information into a precise, visual communication strategy?
Do you want to experience the reasons why the top litigators in the country won’t go to trial without us? Contact us at email@example.com or (914)674-2242.
Demonstrative evidence is a general term for evidence introduced in litigation that is neither spoken testimony nor “real” evidence like an actual murder weapon. Demonstrative evidence is introduced in order to make evidence and facts in a case easier for the judge or jury to understand.
Here are some common mistakes to avoid.
- Waiting until it is too late. From the very beginning, plan your case with an eye toward its presentation to a jury. See our article on using a dual-track strategy in trial preparation.
- Cheating on your charts. There are many ways to lie using charts, including axis changes, using logarithmic scales, cherry picking data, and much more. These “black-hat” techniques are not only inappropriate but if you get caught, they are likely to draw sanctions or worse.
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Here’s a great article, recommended from a colleague, about how the modality effect works in multimedia learning. If you’re a litigator in the 21st century, this is a must read.
The modality effect is a central issue in multimedia learning [see Mayer (Cambridge University Press, 2005a), for a review]. Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory (CLT), for example, presumes that an illustrated text is better understood when presented visually rather than orally.
This article also widens the scope of the analysis of moderator variables (e.g. Pace of presentation, Type of visualization, Research group) as well as their potentially confounded effects. Finally, it is argued that, for theoretical reasons, the so-called modality effect cannot be based on Penney’s or Baddeley’s theories and must be explained in a different way.
See the entire article here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10936-011-9180-4
We recommend to our readers a recent New Yorker article by Gareth Cook entitled Why Abraham Lincoln Loved Infographics. Cook’s New Yorker article discusses Lincoln’s “slave map” as an early example of an infographic.
Infographics—such as maps and charts that visualize data—are a powerful communication tool for litigators. As Cook explains, infographics take “information that is not easy for us to absorb … and put it into a form … that the brain can interpret with speed.”
Litigators can and should use infographics as a way to show patterns and suggest conclusions that would be hard to glean from presenting pages of numbers from spreadsheets. For example, by showing patterns of data, an infographic can lead an audience to a conclusion….
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In oral argument, a litigator has very limited time—she needs to hit the high points and move on. She must communicate enough information to convince the judge or jury of her argument, yet must avoid getting mired in details that will only confuse.
Good litigation graphics can counter this time crunch by allowing an attorney to communicate clearly and quickly. The adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” reflects the truth that our brains quickly process and understand images.
To support an argument, graphics should be tightly tied to the key points of the advocate’s message.
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Great graphics make difficult concepts understandable, and such graphics are what we aspire to each day at Cogent Legal. Today’s blog entry will dissect a graphic from the New York Times and think about what makes it work.
The October 8, 2013, edition of the New York Times included a great graphic in its report on the award of the Nobel Prize in physics for the prediction of the Higgs Boson. The interactive graphic entitled “What is the Higgs?” tackles the difficult task of explaining a particle so fundamental that it has been called the “God Particle.”
The Higgs graphic exemplifies four tools for litigators: analogy, illustration, animation and simplicity. Below, I’ll discuss each of these tools briefly and conclude with some litigation examples.
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