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Think first, draw second: planning better visuals.

Two things we all recognize about demonstrative evidence: It's potent and it's expensive. One great way to maximize the bang and minimize the bucks associated with your courtroom graphics is to kick off the visual development process with a brainstorming session.

Brainstorming helps you develop effective visuals. You identify the most important ideas to attack with visuals and ensure that you have graphics that address all critical case issues. And your brainstorming work product makes it easy to communicate with artists about the purpose of each visual and to test the effectiveness of the designs they develop.

Brainstorming helps you control the cost of graphics. During the session, you estimate the costs associated with your visual ideas and make informed trade-offs to keep expenses under control. The process also reduces costs by minimizing the number of visuals you begin but don't complete or complete but don't use in court.

You can use the following technique whether you're a sole practitioner or part of a trial team. And the process doesn't require one ounce of artistic skill. To the contrary, it helps you take what you do best (digest evidence to create the most forceful case possible) and translate it into a powerful set of visuals.

Getting started

Schedule the session at least three months before trial. Plan to focus exclusively on demonstrative evidence, as it is too important to risk diluting the session with other topics. Depending on the complexity of the case, you will probably need to set aside anywhere from three hours to a full day for the session.

Make sure senior members of the trial team are available to attend and that they understand they are to be primary contributors. If you've hired outside graphic consultants to assist in the design and production process, invite them to attend the session also.

Let all attendees (especially any artists and artist wanna-bes) know that they'll be expected to check their paintbrushes at the door. The goal of this session is to develop a detailed list of the most important demonstrative evidence ideas, not to design the visuals that will communicate these ideas. Keeping idea definition separate from design development yields better ideas, better designs, and reduced costs.

Assign one attendee the role of scribe. He or she will make a record of the proceedings using a flip chart or a computer with a projector attached. This makes it easy for everyone who is participating to see the list of ideas being discussed and for the scribe to make revisions as the session proceeds.

Prepare a worksheet that the scribe will use to organize the thinking developed during the session. The worksheet is a table composed of rows and columns that you can create using word-processing or database software. Each row represents a single demonstrative evidence idea. The columns list critical information about each. Here are the columns you'll want: title, type, issues, mission statement, data source, for use by, estimated cost, key, and production status. The purpose of each column is described below.

Develop an outline of the case issues. As you discuss, you'll use this outline to ensure you're developing ideas for all issues.

Finally, circulate a memo laying out the objectives, agenda, and ground rules for the session. Include the issue outline as an attachment.

Begin your session by reviewing the agenda and making sure all attendees understand the ground rules. Then, plunge right in. There are three phases to the meeting: (1) developing ideas; (2) fleshing out the details of each; and (3) evaluating the ideas to determine which make the cut.

Step one: develop ideas

The first phase of the process is to create an exhaustive list of demonstrative evidence ideas. At this stage, all ideas are great ideas. Avoid debating the merits of any idea; simply build the list. Don't worry--your chance to cut lame ideas will come soon enough.

Offer each attendee a chance to contribute. Give each idea a working title and have the scribe enter it on the worksheet. In the worksheet's "type" column, list the group's expectations regarding the medium that will be used for each visual: blow-up, chart, model, animation, video, and so forth.

Once everyone has had a chance to list pent-up ideas, break out the issue outline you prepared in advance of the meeting. Work through it issue by issue, and develop additional ideas that will help communicate your position on each issue. For each idea, draft a working title and indicate the type of visual you expect the exhibit to be.

Step two: flesh out details

After you've generated a list of graphic ideas, it's time to work back through them one by one and add critical details about each.

Use the "issues" column of the worksheet to list the name of the issue or issues on which each visual will help your client prevail.

Once you're done, tally the number of visuals for each issue. You may discover that some issues have several graphics and others have few. If this is the case, take corrective action. Revisit the issues that have too few ideas, and see what additional graphics you can cook up.

In the "mission statement" column, write a description of the intended impact of each visual. What would you like the jurors to think after seeing each exhibit? Make the inference you want the jurors to draw explicit. If the group struggles to define the mission of the visual, you should kill the idea.

Mission statements play an important role in the process of designing the demonstrative evidence. They can help keep artists focused on the communication goal of each visual. And they can provide a benchmark by which to judge the success of artists' design efforts.

One caveat: The mission statements should define what you want to communicate, not how it should be done.

In the "data source" column, name the pieces of evidence on which each visual will be based. Sometimes the source is obvious. For example, the source for the blow-up of the Lang memo is the Lang memo. But many times the source is unclear and needs to be defined for those who will be creating the visual.

Don't let artists start designing a visual before you have in hand the data that underpin it. Frequently, the data don't have the oomph that was anticipated, and the idea must be abandoned. The result: time and money down the drain.

In the "for use by" column, identify the witness or trial segment (for example, medical expert or opening statement) with which each visual is to be used. If you're trying to decide between two or more witnesses, list their names followed by question marks.

Step three: evaluate ideas

Once you've fleshed out the details of your ideas, step back and assess their merits. Evaluate the potential impact each idea can have on juror thinking, as well as its impact relative to its likely cost and the potential impact of other ideas.

Based on input from graphics consultants or your prior experience developing courtroom graphics, estimate the cost of each visual and enter it on the worksheet.

Next, discuss the relative merits of each visual, taking cost estimates into consideration. Use the "key" column of the worksheet to flag the most important ideas. If you later find that the cost of visuals is exceeding your budget, refer to this assessment to determine which ideas to drop.

Finally, identify the ideas that artists can start to design. Be sure to note the ideas for which you're missing data and assign members of the trial team to develop them.

Periodically, update the "production status" column of the worksheet. As the visuals proceed through production, track their progress along this continuum: unapproved idea, approved ideas--awaiting data, being designed, design approved, in production, and produced.

After your session, have the scribe distribute copies of the worksheet. When artists submit mock-ups of your visuals, use the information on the worksheet to critique their designs.

Soon enough, you'll be the proud owner of a winning set of courtroom graphics. Investing a few hours in a demonstrative evidence session will have paid some handsome returns.

Greg Krehel is a trial consultant and CEO of DecisionQuest's CaseSoft division ( in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
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Author:Krehel, Greg
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2000
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