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Keep It Simple: Making Complex Litigation Understandable for a Jury

William Silas Hale


  • Simplifying complex litigation is important to make the key information understandable and memorable for the jury.
  • Developing a simple and catchy theme can provide a framework for the jury to understand the evidence and guide their analysis.
  • Presenting evidence in lay terms that the jury can understand is crucial, avoiding complex language that may alienate them.
  • Working with appropriate experts who can simplify complex topics and teach them in simple terms is beneficial.
Keep It Simple: Making Complex Litigation Understandable for a Jury
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It is no secret for attorneys that litigation can get complex. When a business (or an individual) has lived with the facts of the case for some time and knows all the intimate details and complex issues, they may be able to keep everything straight in their head. But it is important to consider whether a judge or jury will be able to do so. One key to winning disputes involving complex facts or issues is finding a way to make the key information understandable and memorable for the jury.

It is often more of an art than a science to being able to appropriately simplify a complex case without oversimplifying it and losing key information. Here are three ways, among many, that such a task can be accomplished.

1. Themes

When developing a complex case, it is key to have a simple, catchy, and understandable theme that the jury will remember. A theme can be a saying, phrase, or very short story that helps provide a framework for the jury to understand the evidence. It should be something that emphasizes what you think is key to your case. It paints a simple picture in the mind of the jury that adds some color to what the jury will hear. Such a theme should be presented in the opening statements and referred to in various ways and in various forms throughout the trial. As the jury hears the evidence (from either side), they will then have a point of reference to guide their analysis.

2. Lay Terms

Sometimes, smart people want to sound smart. But, depending on the experience and educational levels of each member of your jury, doing so at trial will only serve to alienate the jury. It is important to present the evidence in a way that the jury will understand, not in a way that someone with a PhD in the specific field would understand. This is accomplished by preparing witnesses ahead of time so they know to present their testimony in plain English. It is also accomplished by asking questions of the witnesses in a way and using words that will help the jury and witness understand what is going on. If a witness says something which may be difficult to understand, the attorney will then need to ask the witness to rephrase or clarify to ensure it is understood. This is especially true with experts.

3. Appropriate Experts

Experts can be quite useful in helping to simplify a complex or scientific topic for a jury. However, it must be the right expert. As explained in the section above, some experts can have a tendency to use “fancy, smart words” that not everyone will understand. The best experts are ones that are confident and knowledgeable in their field but are also good at teaching others (like the jury) about it in simple terms. It is important to work with your expert ahead of time to ensure they are able to simply explain the concepts in a way that makes sense. The ideal expert exudes confidence and comes across as knowledgeable in their field, but also approachable. You want the jury to like and trust your expert, so that they will take his word for it when a topic gets too tough for them to fully understand.