Volume 18, Number 8
December 2001


Using POWERPOINT in Litigation
The Basics

By Timothy A. Piganelli

Using PowerPoint to assist in computerized trial presentation, mediation, arbitration, or settlement conferences can be a powerful and effective strategy. Yet, the old saying about "too much of a good thing" holds true for this Microsoft product application. When to use PowerPoint is an important decision to consider in litigation.

In general, PowerPoint should be used in scripted, rehearsed presentations, such as opening statements, closing arguments, and motions for summary judgment. This tool may not be appropriate for use during a direct or cross-examination. When using PowerPoint, planning and preparation will result in an effective presentation and excellent communication. Communication and comprehension should be the real purpose of this software.

Few litigators want to operate the computer themselves while making their pre-sentation. It's not that they can't click the mouse or hit the space bar to move from slide to slide. But doing so distracts attention from the verbal presentation and may impinge on their ability to make a positive impression. Additionally, litigators may fear that something will go wrong and derail their presentation. One of my clients, trial attorney Mike McKool, of McKool Smith in Dallas, Texas, is a heavy PowerPoint user. He prefers to have a consultant operate the computer. McKool says, "For prepared presentations, I strongly prefer to work with a computer graphics technician. It requires advance coordination, but it is well worth the effort. It frees me from the mechanics and allows me to focus on the judge or jury. There's no way to make the graphics a seamless part of the presentation if I have to run the graphics program myself." However, I still believe that anyone, even a technophobic veteran trial lawyer, can and should use this tool. The ease of presenting ideas, exhibits, and even full-motion video is essential to communicating themes, arguments, and evidence to the audience.

Avoid Fancy Templates

Although the templates built into PowerPoint are nice to look at, most were designed to be as fancy as possible for corporate presentations. Templates in PowerPoint are built to provide a "palette" to work upon. The background colors and borders are pre-built so that the user simply types in new text to "fill in" the template, or inserts images. Corporate presentations are generally designed to dazzle the audience with a sexy, fancy look while communicating an idea.

I have reviewed the templates in the Office 2000 PowerPoint, and have many times shown them to my clients. We always agree that they are too fancy for litigation, especially for a jury. What I suggest is to play with different color schemes to get the best contrast for text and graphics. I often use certain color combinations that look good when using an XVGA data projector. The problem with some projectors is that they can distort the hue and intensity of the display colors, causing a preset color scheme to appear different on the screen from how they looked on the desktop computer monitor used in its creation. Prior to the presentation, it is imperative to test the projector with the computer to view the colors as they will appear on the large screen.

Let's start building a presentation (see figure 1). To select some of the more basic and widely used colors schemes, use the Slide Background features. Go to the pull-down menu Format and then click on Background.

Figure 1

From this menu you can select different background colors and effects (see figure 2). One of my favorites is a blue background with yellow text. Click on the down arrow in the narrow bar, and then select the More Colors option from this screen. Choose the blue that is second from the right, as shown. Hit OK.

Figure 2

This will take you back to the Background window. Click again on the down arrow and then on the Fill Effects option. This will allow you to change the pattern of the color background (see figure 3). For Colors, select the One color option. For Shading styles, select Horizontal. For the Variants, pick the box in the lower right-hand corner. This will give you a good background to use with yellow text.

Figure 3

To select yellow text, click on the Font button at the bottom of the screen. Click on the down arrow, then More Font Colors. Select the yellow color located on the color octagon in the third row from the bottom, third from the left (see figure 4). When entering text, select the Shadow button on the toolbar near the top of your screen (see figure 5). I have found that Arial font, bold, is easy to read when displaying graphics.

Figure 4

Figure 5

Using this same technique, you can select a multitude of color combinations and fill patterns to provide a desired effect. Another color combination that provides good contrast is the gray background with red text, or black with white. These color combinations seem to display well using a projector or a large computer monitor. In any case, you can decide, with a few clicks of the mouse, which colors you prefer.

Now let's talk about what goes onto the background you have prepared.

Text Outlines

There are many ways to use PowerPoint to display simple text. About 80 percent of the slides I create for my clients in PowerPoint are text. Simple as this may seem, there are basic do's and don'ts that apply when building text slides. You want to use a text slide to present the general talking points that will support the verbal presentation.

You'll want to use the slide to outline the verbal presentation. Don't type your verbal presentation onto the slides. Too many times, we have seen PowerPoint presentations that are too text-intensive and repeat almost exactly what the presenter is saying. A more effective method is to use the slide to enhance the verbal presentation, not duplicate it. Consider the audience's ability to view the text. Don't put too much text on a slide. Once you have entered the text, work with the text position, color, and font. This will allow you to see the different text formats you can create for your presentation.

Remember to keep it simple. Don't get too fancy with your text slides. Another mistake I see is overuse of text animation. You know what I mean-you've seen text flying in and out in various forms over and over in a presentation. Animations in PowerPoint are simple to use and can be quite effective, if used properly.

To get to the animation effects, follow these steps:

Figure 6

Click on the pull-down menu item Slide Show, then Custom Animation (see figure 6). This will bring up a box that allows you to add animation effects to everything from text to graphics to objects (such as boxes, circles, and clip art). The different effects can be found by clicking the down arrow below the Entry animation and sound item (see figure 7). This will give you a list of the built-in animation effects that can be used on a block of text. Some text animation techniques can be too fancy and inappropriate for a courtroom. My clients and I prefer the Dissolve effect for text. Try it on your presentation, and decide. Whatever you do, stay away from sound effects. The main purpose of the animation effect on text is to allow the audience to focus on one point at a time on the screen. Thus, the outline bullet points build or "animate" one at a time.

Figure 7

Inserting Graphics

One of the most common uses of PowerPoint in litigation is the presentation of document or photograph images. The simplicity of this technique makes its application a common one, and it can be very effective. Assuming you have already scanned documents or photographs and have the image files, follow these steps to insert those images into your presentation.

Figure 8

Select the menu item Insert, then Picture, then From File (see figure 8). Use the Browse box to find the location of the desired document page or photograph image file. Once you select OK, the picture will automatically be inserted into your slide. You can now resize the image by selecting one of the small white boxes surrounding the imported image (see figure 9). This allows you to insert text above or below the image.

Figure 9

Now you can add text by using the simple technique discussed above. Start typing the desired text and you can create a graphic or slide with an imported image in it. Keep in mind the rules of evidence about inserting exhibits in a demonstrative slide. Once admitted or stipulated to, document exhibits inserted into a PowerPoint slide with surrounding text can make a point very effectively.

Figure 10

Figure 11

Charts and Graphs

Inevitably, an expert will generate a chart, graph, or spreadsheet that you may want to show the audience. Often, litigators receive an expert's work in a black-and-white or color document, and then have to present it using an overhead projector, Elmo, or Visual Presenter. Consider using the high-tech approach. Ask your expert for the original computer file from which the chart or graph was printed. Then follow these easy steps to insert it into your slide presentation.

On your pull-down menu near the top, click on Insert, then Object. In the Insert Object box select Create from file (see figure 10). Then click on the Browse button. Route your way to the A drive or whatever drive you are using (see figure 11). Select the file from the disk or drive, and then click OK. This will insert the graphic into your slide show. You can then resize, add text, and even change colors. You now have the graphic in your slide show and it can be presented in color through your computer during your presentation (see figure 12).

Figure 12

Your Presentation

Now that you have prepared your PowerPoint presentation and rehearsed it, the mechanics of displaying it are easy. As you make your presentation, simply hit the mouse, the space bar on your keyboard, or a remote device to move from one slide to the next. The first slide you build is slide 1, the second is slide 2, and so on. When making the presentation, the slides generally are displayed in order starting with slide 1. In this scenario, all the work that goes into the PowerPoint preparation is useful only if the presenter stays on the rehearsed course. In the event that you want to skip a slide and go to another slide in your presentation, key in the slide number on your keyboard, hit the Enter key, and you will jump directly to that numbered slide. Most of my clients prefer that I not only prepare the slides that make up the presentation but also operate the computer system in court or the meeting room to bring up the slides at the precise, rehearsed moment during the presentation.

I have had many opportunities to poll juries after a computerized trial project. I have found that they are appreciative of the technology, and in particular, like the "animate" technique used in PowerPoint to show a text-outline slide. They have reported that it allows them to focus on one concept at a time, then hear the discussion on each point, supporting evidence, or testimony.

Many other PowerPoint features and techniques can be employed. While this article introduces the basic use and application of PowerPoint as it relates to litigation, PowerPoint can also be used to create and present sophisticated graphics. I have been able to construct complicated graphics with animation that illustrated, with motion, the way a cell phone communicates with a main bay station; how the software drivers of a digitizing tablet send commands to a PC; and how a fraudulent check-kiting scheme works in the world of banking. Bypassing expensive full-motion animation techniques, we were able to create these animations at a fraction of the cost of a fully rendered computer animation. Yet, in most cases, it is a wise decision to keep it simple, something that PowerPoint does very well.

Timothy A. Piganelli is the owner of Legal Technology Consulting LLC, based in Phoenix, Arizona. The firm provides comprehensive consulting services in a full line of computerized litigation support and training, accident reconstruction and engineering, and automated trial presentation. He can be reached via e-mail at tim@legaltechconsult.com.

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