Volume 17, Number 8
December 2000

Using Presentation Software to Create Courtroom Graphics

By John Tredennick

Hell has frozen over, the opera lady has sung, and despite all your best efforts, the case hasn't settled. It looks like this time you will have to try the case. Time to pull out that graphics stuff and get ready to dazzle the jury.

But, what do you use and how do you use it? Do you call in graphics specialists or can you do it yourself? And, can you afford to do battle with that well-heeled defense firm or take on that plaintiff's firm with its trial war chest?

These problems are not as tough as you might think. You can create simple but effective graphics for next to nothing with programs you probably own already. (Save the graphics specialists for that really big case with mega bucks at stake.) Likewise, you can display these graphics to the jury with basic, simple-to-operate equipment that you can either buy or rent. I will show you how in this article. You keep focusing on that killer opening statement; I've got the graphics covered.

Simple Software to Create Trial Exhibits

Let's start with the good news. There are a number of simple (and cheap) graphics packages you can use to create professional-quality trial exhibits, such as Excel or PowerPoint, if you are a Microsoft shop, or Lotus/Ami Pro or Quattro Pro/Presentations, if you are a Lotus or WordPerfect shop. They all do a great job and are pretty easy to operate. Indeed, my ten-year-old daughter can make first-rate charts and drawings with these kinds of programs. My eight-year-old son isn't far behind. Even I do pretty well, and I couldn't draw a straight line in grade school.

The bad news? You will need to invest a few hours in learning how to use these programs (unless you can dragoon your eight-year-old to help). The time, however, is well spent. And don't wait until the eve of trial if you can avoid it. Buy a good "beginner's guide"-type of help book, with lots of pictures, and start playing around with the software. Spend an afternoon working through the tutorial with your laptop, maybe with the TV on in the background. Whatever you do, become proficient with the software now, so you will be ready for action when that next case stubbornly refuses to settle. Then, creating graphics will be fun instead of painful.

Using Spreadsheets to Chart Your Message

Most lawyers think spreadsheets are fancy calculators. They are, but there's a whole lot more to them than that. Modern spreadsheets have sophisticated charting capabilities that can be useful even if you don't do numbers. You may be surprised to learn what you can do with a spreadsheet-and how easy it is to do it.

Let me start with an example. I was meeting with an expert witness on a high-stakes uranium mining dispute. Our client had been sued for "destroying" a uranium mine through an alleged interference with the mining partnership. Because of our actions, the mine never operated, and the plaintiff claimed losses of $30 to $40 million in profits.

We disagreed strongly with the interference allegation and were ready to defend on liability grounds. But there was another point to be made. The mine never operated because the long-term and spot prices for uranium were below the mine's operating costs. According to my expert, the plaintiff would have lost money if it had put the mine into production. Thus, there were no damages in any event.

That caught my attention. "What do you mean?" I asked. "How do we show that?"

"Well," Dan the expert said, "I can check with my office to verify this, but I think spot market prices in the late eighties were about $12 per ton. Our Denver office looked at this mine some years ago, and operating costs were closer to $20."

"Now you're talking," I said. "Get on the phone and find out the numbers."

Dan called his Atlanta office to get a list of spot and long-term contract prices and his Denver office to dig up the production cost estimate. As the faxes came in, I created this simple spreadsheet (see figure 1). Things began to look promising.

Once I had the numbers in a simple spreadsheet, I could have stopped. There aren't that many numbers on the chart, and it is relatively easy to see that internal costs are lower than spot or long-term prices in each case. But I also knew how easy it would be to take the next step and create a chart. I had my computer at the meeting, so I decided to see how the numbers looked when I charted them. I will take you through the process and show you the results.

With Excel 2000, the first step is to block the data and choose "insert/chart." You are presented with the "Chart Wizard" (see figure 2), which walks you through the steps needed to create a chart.

Although Excel suggested using a line chart to show my data, the program allows users to choose from a number of various kinds of charts. I recommend playing with the various options to see what happens. More times than not, Excel's initial choice is the right one.

From there you walk through the steps, giving your chart a title, choosing colors, adding labels, etc. Again, play around with the different options until you see how things work (or get a simple how-to guide like Excel for Dummies and work through the tutorial). The result of my effort was figure 3.

Figure 3 tells the story far more effectively than numbers ever could. Good graphics send an immediate message. You need a few minutes to review and analyze the pricing numbers from the spreadsheet, but it takes no time to draw the same conclusion from a good chart. The mine never opened because its costs to produce uranium were higher than market sales prices.

Excel has simple drawing tools that allowed me to dress up the chart even further (see figure 4). I don't plan to quit my law practice and become an artist, but figure 4 isn't a bad chart, considering I created it in about five minutes, with my expert and client looking on.

Here are some examples from another of my cases. I include them to give you an idea of the kinds of trial exhibits you can make with a program like Excel.

Figure 5 provides a breakdown of software problems in a pie-chart format. Pie charts are handy when you want to show that one particular problem, such as critical bugs, was a relatively small part of all the problems at issue.

Figure 6 is a line chart. I think these work better when you are comparing two types of data. In this case I wanted to show that my client was responsive, fixing problems quickly after they were raised.

I could show more, but you get the idea. With a simple spreadsheet program, you can prepare all kinds of simple but effective graphics for trial.

Using PowerPoint to Present Your Message

Although spreadsheets are great for charting, you also may need to create chronologies or other visuals for your cases. There are plenty of good drawing packages for this purpose, but I like PowerPoint. The newest version has sophisticated drawing tools, and I like to give electronic presentations whenever possible. The resulting graphics are cheaper to create, you can change them on the fly, and all you need carry is a notebook computer and a small projector. If your presentation venue doesn't support an electronic presentation, you can always print your work on a color printer and present it in a traditional manner.

Let me give you an example. In one case we needed to present a time line to the court in support of a statute of limitations argument. Our argument was that the plaintiff, a large corporation, knew about our alleged wrongdoing more than three years before filing suit. Under the three-year statute, its claims were barred.

Supporting briefs for the argument were lengthy, and I knew that unless we could simplify the message, we were lost. I decided to prepare a chronology using Power- Point (see figure 7).

PowerPoint is typical of electronic presentation packages. It is geared toward bullet points and inserted charts or graphic images. What many people don't realize is that it also has most of the drawing tools you need. Using them, you can create the boxes and lines needed for a chronology. The hard work, as usual, is figuring out what to include in your chronology.

I prepared these just before the hearing, and you can quickly see how the argument progressed via an electronic slide show in court.

As you can see, figure 7 is a simple drawing, but it sets out the events clearly. Because I presented this using PowerPoint, each element of the chart appeared separately as my discussion progressed. Where appropriate, I inserted slides containing the highlighted images of key documents. The simple rhetorical point was, "Don't take my word for it, your honor. Here are their documents."

Using the built-in animation features in PowerPoint, we walked the judge through the argument until we reached the inescapable conclusion: The case was time-barred. More than three years had elapsed before filing (see figure 8).

Again, these charts aren't perfect, and I'm not looking to compete with our graphics department. But I often need simple graphics charts on short notice, and I don't always have time to wait for help. I'm sure this is true for many of you, too. If you don't have graphics capabilities in-house, the options are even less attractive, and certainly more expensive. Better to know how to do it yourself.

Other Graphics Programs to Consider

Although PowerPoint and Excel make up my central trial-presentation arsenal, there are lots of other programs you should consider for special needs. Visio (now by Microsoft) has always been a great tool for creating diagrams and schematics. Adobe Photoshop and the other programs in this category, such as ImageReady, Paintshop Pro, etc., are great for working with photographs or more specialized drawings. There are also plenty of drawing packages, such as Corel Draw, SmartDraw, and Microgravx, which you can consider.

One PowerPoint add-on to consider is Anix, by Persuasive Arts (www.persuasivearts.com). It offers great presentation features, like the ability to highlight images during a presentation or zoom to key parts of an image.

As an alternative to PowerPoint or another drawing package for creating time lines, check out TimeMap, by the folks at CaseMap (www.casemap.com). It allows you to create simple but effective time lines just by entering the relevant data.

How-To Books

There are at least two good how-to books aimed at helping litigators use PowerPoint and Excel. The first is PowerPoint for Litigators, written by Deanne Siemer, Frank Rothschild, Edward Stein, and Sam Solomon and published by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA; www.nita.org). It is a wonderful, practical guide to using PowerPoint in the courtroom, and I recommend it highly. Buy this book and a copy of PowerPoint, and you're on your way.

The other book is Lawyer's Guide to Spreadsheets, which I wrote this year. It is published by Glasser LegalWorks (www.legalwks.com). You can learn more about it or about spreadsheets at www.legalspreadsheets.com.

There are, of course, shelves of how-to books about PowerPoint and Excel at every computer store in the country. Some are daunting in their thickness. If you go this route, and I did originally, I suggest thumbing through several until you find one that fits your learning style.

Hardware for Trial Presentations

Once you have your demonstrative exhibits in hand, your next step is to figure out how to present them to the jury. Let me start by giving you the same advice I did for software. Don't wait until the last minute to figure out your trial presentation strategy. Get the stuff now and learn how to use it. Using high-tech presentation tools for the first time in court is like trying to pilot a 747 on your first flying lesson.

That said, let's review the options, starting with the simplest.

Paper charts and transparencies. You can present any of the charts you have made in paper or transparency format-options that should never be overlooked. For about $300 you can buy a color printer that is perfectly adequate for printing slides, charts, images, etc. Hand a packet to the judge, and make up a notebook for the jury. Simple as that.

For about $100 per chart or exhibit, you can have the local copy center enlarge some or all of your exhibits. These days, most copy centers will take your electronic slides or spreadsheet charts via e-mail and print them direct. If not, print them yourself and let the copy center enlarge them. Or, bring the disk with you when you go.

A tried-and-true alternative is an overhead projector. Print your color illustrations on transparencies and display them. My only hesitation is brightness. If you are going that route, use light backgrounds so that your exhibits will come through brightly. Keep the focus on the words or charts you are presenting.

Doar Communicator. The next step up on our list is a Doar Communicator, or the Elmo Visual Presenter (www.doar.com). The Communicator is a cool projection device designed to work with paper. It hooks to a TV or large computer monitor and projects whatever you place on its bed-pictures, a document, color graphics, even physical evidence. Its primary attraction is simplicity. The only buttons you need to use are focus and zoom. Knowing you can wait until the last minute to work up graphics is an added bonus. Cost for this solution? About $3,000.

PowerPoint and a projector. PowerPoint is the next step up the technology ladder. As you now know, you can create text and bullet points to reinforce your argument. You can make charts and graphs, or import them from Excel or any drawing program. And you can display scanned images of key documents, with highlights or other embellishments. All of these are displayed on electronic slides. You can move through them sequentially or jump to different slides.

All you need to display a PowerPoint slide show are your computer (we use a notebook) and a projection device. The projector acts as an external monitor for your computer. Plug it into the external monitor port and fire it up. From there, you are off to the races, projecting whatever you have on a large white screen (the more reflective the better).

Prices for projectors range from $3,000 to $12,000. The trade-off is brightness, which is important because you want the jury to see what you are projecting. Minimum brightness for courtroom use is 1,000 lumens. Some speakers use cheaper projectors, but to do so they must close the curtains and dim the lights. Most judges don't like it when you mess with their courtrooms. And if you have to turn off the lights, the jury may soon be asleep.

It is hard to recommend products because there are many good ones and offerings change by the minute. My advice is to find a reputable dealer who carries several lines. Take an afternoon and try them all. Keep the lights up and the blinds open while you run your test. See which product you like.

Consider renting a projector. For $300 per day, you can get the latest and greatest. The key benefit, aside from not having to spring for your own projector, is that you get to try the latest technology each time you rent.

Special courtroom software. When you are ready for the big leagues, there are several programs built for courtroom presentations. The leader is TrialDirector (www.indatacorp.com). This program runs on an Access database, which allows you to load an almost unlimited number of images and graphics into the system.

TrialDirector offers random access to your images. Unlike PowerPoint, it will also display multipage documents and let you annotate or highlight them. You can even run a PowerPoint presentation from it.

If you really want to shine, use your word processor to create bar-code stickers (you need a special font for this). Then access your exhibits through a bar-code wand. We use a wireless one that allows me to call up a specific exhibit right from the podium.

TrialDirector now has competition from a program called Sanction (www. verdictsystems.com), which was developed by some of the TrialDirector programmers. Sanction costs about $400; TrialDirector can cost considerably more, depending on which modules you purchase.

Getting Help

The first few times you use a computer in the courtroom, bring an assistant-one who knows computers. Trials are stressful. Worry about presenting your case, not how to keep your computer running.

Ready to begin? Whatever you do, don't wait until the last minute. Make sure your equipment is working and you know how to use it. And have a backup plan in place, like paper copies of key exhibits. Above all, remember the First Rule of Wingwalking: Don't let go of nothing until you got firm hold of something else!

John Tredennick is a partner and CIO at Holland & Hart and the CEO of CaseShare Systems, LLC, a spin-off of the firm building paperless systems for the law and business community. He has written four books on law and technology, including The Lawyer's Guide to Spreadsheets (Glasser Legalworks 2000; www.legalspreadsheets.com).

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