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August 31, 2021 Practice Points

Three Rules for New Lawyers Creating Visual Aids for Trial

A few important ideas to keep in mind when entering into the world of demonstratives.

By Andrew G. Jackson and Ruben I. Gonzalez

When it comes to demonstrative evidence, every modern lawyer should know how to make a simple, clear, and visually appealing PowerPoint slide. Sometimes a graphics artist will be employed to create some of the visual aids that are used at trial. But invariably, trial lawyers will have a stroke of last-minute brilliance, and it will fall to the associate on the team to turn the dream into a reality. For new lawyers entering into the world of demonstratives, here are three important rules to keep in mind.

Rule 1: Keep It Simple

Demonstratives are used for two reasons: (1) to reinforce basic points and (2) to engage jurors. Thus, the key to great demonstrative is to communicate the simple, basic point and nothing more. Demonstratives should not be used to reinforce complicated and convoluted points involving a great deal of data and information. If you are creating a timeline, limit yourself to the most important key events the jury needs to know—typically no more than five points. If you are using a chart or graph, distill the data to the most fundamental point that can be understood in moments with very little explanation. If you are enlarging a document in the record, draft an identical document including only the important text that you want to highlight (but making clear that certain text has been deleted).

Rule 2: Create Demonstratives that Can Be Re-Used

A gold-medal demonstrative is one that can be used throughout trial. If a demonstrative can be used to introduce themes in the opening, discussed with expert and fact witness, and altered slightly in closing to include argument, it was well done. Demonstratives used in such a way are more likely to ensure that key themes stick with friendly jurors and give them ammunition to use in jury deliberation.

Rule 3: Empathize with Your Audience

HAVE YOU EVER FOUND YOURSELF ASKING, “WHY IS THE PRESENTER YELLING AT ME WITH BULLET POINTS IN ALL CAPS?” If so, you already know one trap lawyers using demonstratives fall prey to: forgetting the audience. Lawyers, especially trial lawyers, tend to create visuals or demonstratives for themselves—to help guide an argument they crafted over weeks, months, or even years. In other words, trial lawyers may build a PowerPoint or other visual to use as their own outline. But demonstratives and visuals are not about you. Demonstratives and powerful visuals should be designed with the factfinder in mind. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself, “What is the message I want my factfinder leaving the room with?” If your demonstrative or visual fails to answer that question, you need to empathize more with your audience. Get feedback often (especially from a non-lawyer) and iterate. Place the same care in your visual as you have with your brief and your argument. Failing to empathize with your audience may entirely distract from your otherwise winning argument. So, remember, it’s not about you. 

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Andrew G. Jackson is an associate at Faegre Drinker Biddle Reath LLP in their Minneapolis, Minnesota, office. Ruben I. Gonzalez is an associate at Faegre Drinker Biddle Reath LLP in their Chicago, Illinois, office. 

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