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Trial Technology: What Has & Hasn’t Changed in Nearly Two Decades

seasoned-trial-graphic-artist

I recently stumbled across an article I co-authored about 17 years ago for the National Law Journal with fellow journeyman and litigation consultant, Stan Sandstrom.  It was entitled, “An Ancient Art Jazzed by High Tech.”

It brought me back.  I remembered that when we wrote it, I had just a few high-profile cases under my belt. Of course, now over a decade and a half later, I’ve been through a few hundred trials, and I’m certainly sporting a few greys and a few extra pounds.  And the word “jazzed” doesn’t sound quite as cool as it used to.

As I read further, I took a moment to reflect on the article itself, and on the current state of trial technology:  What else has changed since then? What communication principles have proven timeless?  What’s the right mindset going forward? 

I thought I’d examine such questions in this post: 

What Has Changed in Trial Technology & Electronic Presentation? 

Then: 

Leading up to the NLJ article we were encountering the primitive stages of technology’s use in the courtroom.  Not all attorneys were convinced of its benefits and even we techies were still working out the appropriate balance that would help – and not hinder – jurors’ comprehension of an attorney’s case.  To some jurors (and attorneys), using courtroom technology might be viewed as the 800-pound gorilla, or perhaps the ostentatious tool of “big bully corporations.” 

By the time of the article, the tech-friendly courtroom transition was slowly underway, in some respects forced forward by a new reality: your average juror was increasingly technologically sophisticated (read: a bit jaded) and began to expect some level of electronic aid in the courtroom.  As Stan and I wrote at the time, “Jurors are starting to regard nontechnological attorneys as unprepared rather than as ‘underdogs.’”   

Jurors were simply adapting to new communication norms.  The Internet, and everything that came with it, was expanding exponentially.  Alongside it, traditional media and entertainment upped their visuals; widely-viewed news channels like CNN had nifty little tickers running across the bottom of the screen, colorful charts, financial graphs, etc.   

The most effective courtroom presentations integrated elements of those new norms.  Such contemporary trial technology marvels included computerized documents, simple PowerPoint slides, and digital video – *gasp!* 

Now: 

Today’s presentation technology is so easy to use it’s no longer an obstacle for most trial attorneys.  Impressive, full-featured software and hardware is affordable, smaller, faster.  We can use laptops, tablets, even cell phones.  Wi-Fi is freely available to both sides.   

This is fortunate, because the speed and depth at which technology and social media culture have taken over the everyday lives of the public is pretty astounding.  Many jurors are now accustomed to communicating in images and bite-sized text.  Efficient, hyper-polished graphics – even animations – are commonplace; the CNN ticker is still going strong, but it’s joined by Twitter tie-ins and complex infographics.   

All this eye candy inundates and desensitizes its audience.  Like old movie CGI, trial presentations can start to look and feel dated.  As a result, much like 17 years ago, attorneys are compelled to bring their presentations up to a new acceptable technological level to fit jurors’ ever-changing expectations.  Such expectations not only affect what tech we use and when, but how we present with that technology.  For one, current communication norms have greatly limited and divided jurors’ attention.  Attorneys need to find a way to reach them nevertheless. 

[The many nuances of how best to adapt your graphics to current realities aren’t in the scope of this post, but check out this three-part discussion of New Media’s Impact on Jurors for more details and plenty of tips.] 

Timeless Trial Technology Principles 

Some things still hold true, however.  As I see it, the top two trial graphics principles that have not changed – and aren’t going anywhere anytime soon – are as follows: 

1. Story:  Still the Most Important Aspect of Your Case 

The story you tell as a trial attorney must never be overshadowed by your technology.  Technology can emphasize, can augment, can demonstrate, but only as a function of your overall narrative.  Getting too flashy or too busy will confuse and overwhelm any audience.  The best graphics create a strong imprint, and common reference points, so that jurors have the facts and framework they need to remember and evaluate your case story during deliberations. 

2. Variety What Keeps Jurors Awake & Tuned-In 

Offering variety to jurors extends beyond animations vs. timelines vs. checklists.  It is equally about knowing when to turn off the technology altogether.  

For example, say jurors have settled in to your slide deck.  You’ve got a great blend of graphics and they’re honed to perfection, sure.  But suddenly you click off the screen, face the box directly and speak with that characteristic attorney passion?  You’ll have their rapt attention as you underscore your crucial point.   

Likewise, the classic pad of paper and markers actually has a lot of clout when it serves as a contrast from your otherwise electronics-driven presentation.   

There’s an art to finding that balance. 

Looking Forward:  A Trial Technology Mindset for the Future 

Given how trial graphics respond to developments in media, there is likely a significant advantage for those who stay up to date with how jurors expect to receive information.  It certainly doesn’t hurt to work with an experienced graphics team who does exactly that, and who can help guide you toward the best graphics, the best techniques, and the best balance. 

Various industries are already utilizing amazing new technologies, like 3-D imaging and geothermal imaging.  These technologies will offer trial attorneys the ability to tell even more engaging stories, pulling jurors into the environment like never before.  I imagine that such advances will prove ever more useful as the latest movies, games, and websites continue to drive jurors’ thirst for attractive and engrossing theatrics. 

Nevertheless, don’t forget to respect those Timeless Principles.  Despite the many changes – to our tech and to our audience – I think the very first lines of that 15-year-old article are as pertinent as ever: 

“Attorneys are storytellers weaving the facts of a case into the fabric of an argument. Technology adds texture to the fabric, enhancing the pattern and making the final piece more vivid.” 

 

By: Adam Bloomberg, Managing Director – Visual Communications