Checklists. Pilots use checklists before takeoffs to ensure that critical items are not forgotten. Doctors use checklists for simple patient procedures as well as major operations to avoid mistakes. In fact, we all use lists – it is human nature. In our hectic, distraction-filled lives, all kinds of lists help us get organized. Whether it’s a grocery list or a list of instructions, whether it’s written down on paper or on a smartphone or tablet computer, when we want to get focused and get something done well and completely, we write a list. Because of their usefulness and ubiquity, jurors from all backgrounds can relate to a checklist. That’s why in most cases an electronic checklist is one of the most effective graphics possible.
One of the best uses of a checklist is with your expert during direct examination. Not only does the checklist focus your jury on the main points you want to make from a witness’ testimony, it also focuses your expert and provides an organized method to walk through and teach a complicated procedure or process during testimony. Judges can also benefit from a checklist graphic. The use of any trial graphics during a bench trial is often dismissed because we assume the judge will automatically understand all of the issues in a case. However, just like jurors, a judge learns best by hearing and seeing at the same time. Moreover, it can help avoid the judge being distracted with any number of matters while listening to testimony over several days. In the same way a checklist can focus the jurors’ attention, it can also focus the judge on important case facts.
The same caveats apply for using a checklist as for any other graphic. You must announce to the court that you will be presenting slides with a checklist that the witness has created based on their expert opinion and/or report. Additionally, make sure you have the ability to change the wording in a few seconds if opposing counsel objects.
Above are classic examples of checklist graphics. Note the title and the bulleted list. Boxes are also included to “check off” items as they are mentioned. In order to create the most effective electronic checklist possible, there are a number of points to keep in mind:
1. Language. The language you use should be simple. Keep jargon or terms of art to an absolute minimum. Remember, the goal of a list is to simplify and focus the information for jurors. Jargon and technical terms defeat that purpose.
2. Word Economy. When it comes to a checklist, the rules of proper English can be ignored. Sentence fragments work just fine. If you are going to use punctuation (question marks or periods) at the end of each item, be consistent. Also, keep in mind the courtroom set-up when designing the demonstrative. For example, for the times when the jury box is at least 10 feet from the court’s projection screen or Plasma TV, make sure to keep the font size no less than 20 point. If you need more room, use more slides.
3. Simplicity. While using PowerPoint will give you a tremendous amount of flexibility and creative potential, don’t go overboard. Your checklist needs to be an extension of the written version and shouldn’t distract jurors. This simplicity extends to your animations as well. Each item should be brought up one by one, with a very simple animated wipe or fade.
4. Check Marks. The most effective way to use a checklist during direct or cross examination is to check the appropriate box during the witness’s testimony. If done correctly jurors will see everything you show on the list get checked off by the witness’ testimony by the end of her direct or cross examination. If you are using a checklist during cross examination you will need the flexibility to check YES or NO. With PowerPoint, those boxes can be set up to check one or the other without having to move in an ordered animation sequence.
5. Color and Icons. As with all trial graphics, make sure the color scheme of your checklist matches the color scheme of your other graphics. Consider using an icon. For example in a product defect case, you could use an image of the product at the top of the YES or NO boxes. Similarly, if appropriate, add a picture of the witness. This works especially well in closing arguments when summarizing a particular witness’ testimony.
In court, we need to keep the jury focused on our story from opening to closing. Well-designed checklists not only focus your story, but also focus your witnesses and jury on important case issues and themes.
By: Adam Bloomberg, Managing Director -Visual Communications