Litigator’s Playbook: Show and Tell – Bring Your Case Story to Life with Visuals
by Jeri Kagel, M.Ed., J.D.
Trial Synergy, LLC
If your case is going to trial, then you and your witnesses have a story to tell and keeping your jurors interested in that story is what leads to the success of your case. Those of us who have worked on trials over the years – be they simple or complex – know the importance of keeping your jurors engaged with the themes of the case.
You start early – whetting jurors’ appetites during voir dire and then grabbing their attention during your opening statement. If only it could end there. But you still have your trial ahead of you. The details of your story must be told. The facts may be boring or complex, the case itself may be tedious with bits of information never fully coming together in ways that people best digest and integrate information. Yet, criminal trial or civil, defense, plaintiff or prosecution, you need them to “get it” if you want a verdict in your favor.
We no longer live in a time where long narratives and the formalities of the written or spoken word capture peoples’ attention. Instead, trials today benefit from the influx of, and strategically designed and incorporated, visuals.
It is truly – Show and Tell Time!
Courtrooms are being outfitted to allow for a variety of visual bells and whistles. We can show video clips, animations, highlighted portions of deposition transcripts to counter or support what’s being said on the stand, excerpts of previous statements and split screens to show disparate testimony or behaviors. What might otherwise be difficult expert testimony can be helped tremendously with visuals that actually give a colorful and understandable depiction of what is being said.
Trials are always about your story. This column has shown how to use the tools and techniques of effective storytellers to make your words paint a picture and engage the hearts and minds of jurors. Your trial is always about the story – your case story, and making it come alive.
Using multimedia or visuals is always about being strategic. It is important to be intentional about what to use and when to use it. Just because something looks good isn’t enough. Here are some items to consider:
Can you use multimedia for your incapacitated plaintiff or young criminal defendant without looking like your client has so much money that jurors are less likely to sympathize or believe their story?
Can you affect an impactful dramatic moment without going overboard and having your client appear to jurors the same as your opposing corporate defendant or government prosecution?
Can your visuals highlight your story without taking all the attention, distracting from the parties/witnesses you need the jurors to trust?
Streamlining information is a necessity as judges want to move trials along at a faster pace or in an expedited way. The old adage, “A picture speaks a thousand words” makes the use of the “show” in show-and-tell even more important. Multimedia and visuals strategically designed and placed add to your jurors’ understanding, provides them with a picture of what you want your words to convey and adds to their ability to connect with your story.
Use it. But use it with care!
Jeri Kagel, M.Ed., J.D., is the president and principal trial consultant for Trial Synergy, LLC. Ms. Kagel has her M.Ed. in counseling psychology from Georgia State University and her J.D. from Northeastern University.