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Part I – The 7 Keys to Effective Litigation Timelines

In a previous post, we covered the basics of timelines: their uses, anatomy and a number of possible types. But because great timelines are so beneficial to so many cases, we thought we’d delve a bit deeper. In this subsequent two-part discussion we’ll highlight the seven key timeline elements that will maximize its effectiveness, and the basic psychology behind those elements.

In this edition, we will discuss the three non-verbal components of your timeline that boost its attention-grabbing potential, promote rapid comprehension, help de-clutter screen real estate, and even elicit emotional responses—making it sleeker and more potent than ever.

1) The Impact of Colors on Litigation Timelines

The apt use of color has been shown to significantly increase an audience’s understanding and retention of the material you present.  Not only does it make your graphics look more appealing, it can affect the importance the jury places on certain information and even their emotional response; this is no small matter, given the weight that emotions carry in jury decision-making. An expert graphics team can give you more detailed advice about the nuances of color use, but here are a few quick tips:

Focus on Legibility First

  • Certain color contrasts are hard on the eyes – if your audience can’t read it, they certainly won’t understand it.
    • Use an appropriate contrast – don’t get crazy with it – and opt for darker backgrounds and less saturation to avoid uncomfortable glare.
    • Chances are someone on your jury will have some level of color-blindness; take care to choose color combinations that all jurors can differentiate.

Colors should “fit” the type of case (See Figure 1).

  • Color choice can promote a cognitive link between the issue at hand and your authority on that issue.
  • For example, cases involving heavy machinery tend towards dark colors like blacks and browns; medical cases often employ pastel colors.

Color should “fit” the desired message. 

  • People are inclined to attribute certain feelings to certain colors, depending on context and culture.  In North America, for instance:
    • Black is commonly used for its authoritative quality, while blue is used for its sensible/honest quality;
    • Green is often associated with nature, friendliness, money or gain (financial or otherwise); and
    • Red is often associated with aggression, excitement or loss.
  • Be careful about the use of colors that might come off as frivolous or overly gender-specific.

Figure 1: Use of Colors to Represent Themes in a Product Defect Graphic


2) Using Icons to Tell a Story in Any Trial Graphic

Brand logos, street signs, mobile applications—we’re surrounded by iconography.  Many icons work as easily identifiable, nearly universal shorthand pictures for larger concepts.  As such, they’re right at home in your timeline:

Icons can tell a story, tell it quickly and tell it memorably (See Figure 2).

  • Instead of forcing your jury to process words first and then the message (separate brain functions), an image bypasses that mental middleman and cuts straight to the point.
  • Like colors, icons often have common associations that you can use to your advantage; just be sure the intended meaning will be interpreted correctly.
  • Icons are much easier to recall than a set of words.

Icons can clean up your graphic and replace sprawling, wordy entries with simple pictures.

  • Why write, “For two years no complaints were filed” when you can simply cross out “complaints” with a big “X”?
  • Using a legend or key to show what’s what puts yet another step between juror and message – when possible, use a simple icon to represent each party directly on the timeline.

Figure 2: Use Icons to Illustrate Different Seasons In an Oil and Gas Trial Graphic


  • Icons can link to other pertinent slides and documents, saving space while being a whole lot more interesting.
      • For example, an icon of a phone can be a clickable link to the specific log or handwritten notes memorializing that important telephone conversation between your client and the other party.

3) Using Animation In Litigation Timelines to Get Better Results

Timelines should not be static (and stagnant). PowerPoint is capable of incorporating a variety of interactive, moving parts when presenting your timeline. This additional variety is yet another means to hold your fickle jury’s attention.

One of the most useful applications of animation is its clutter-saving power. Your timeline needs to say a lot, but definitely not all at once. Animations, like clickable or zoomable icons, are perfect for layering important elements, like testimony or document callouts, in their proper chronological position, but without taking up screen real estate for the full presentation of your timeline (See Figure 3).

Figure 3: Use of Animation In a Toxic Tort Trial Graphic


Remember, however, that when your jury goes back to deliberate, they may only have the static version, so make sure it can stand on its own in communicating your most important messages.  If you have any questions about how to take your timeline and improve the non-verbal aspects of it, please let us know.  In the next part of our discussion, we will continue reviewing the critical factors for effective timelines.

Adam-Bloomberg  By:  Adam Bloomberg, Director – Visual Communications


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