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Morgan Smith

How to Build the Visual Foundation of Your Case

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 11.28.48 AMWe all know by now that we live in a world in which information is delivered visually, and that people learn best when they have visual aids. Attorneys who head to court with demonstratives to show as well as tell their case are at a distinct advantage over attorneys who lack graphics that make their oral and written presentation more understandable and engaging. The question for trial attorneys is, how best can you create visuals for a powerful case presentation—especially if your time and budget are limited?

Last week, I answered that question and showed a three-step plan for creating simple yet effective graphics at a presentation for the Melvin Belli seminar on trial practices, hosted by the Santa Clara County Trial Lawyers Association. This blog post will summarize some of my key points and show a few images as examples. This presentation focused on PI cases, since most of the attorneys in attendance specialized in personal injury, but the steps below can apply to almost any type of case.

The expression of legal issues in a visual manner is open to endless creative possibilities, with the primary goal being to impart information and enhance understanding. Let’s take a look at ways you can make some basic graphics for a typical case involving an incident with injury. My plan involves (1) what to do before depositions, (2) what to do before mediation, and (3) what to do before trial. Each step builds on the prior work done and results in powerful, admissible demonstratives for trial.

1. Before Deposition

Start creating graphics to build the visual foundation of your case before the first depo is taken, so that you can go to depositions with a basic to-scale visual diagram of the incident scene. Then witnesses and experts can add in details.

You may find yourself starting to develop the case with a police report and hard-to-decipher location sketch. You might be able to pull an image of the incident location off Google (see prior post for tips on using Google Maps and Google Earth for your case). But you probably won’t want to use these police sketches and grainy Google images to present your case, because they are full of confusing information and simply look bad.

Here’s an example of a police sketch laid over an enlarged Google Earth image (i.e., an example of a less than optimal way of showing these images):rough sketch and google image

By comparison, here is a simple, affordable to-scale diagram created as vector art that can be displayed in different sizes, on screen or printed for 2D display (i.e. a better way to show the incident):

to-scale diagram example

Once you have this diagram, you can use it in depositions for all experts and witnesses to work off of and mark up. You can then make an overlay showing each witness’s details about what he or she remembered about the incident.

using the diagram in depo

2. Before Mediation

Now that the key depos are done with the aid of this first visual, you’ve made your expert’s job much easier because you have developed a consistent and to-scale diagram showing what each key witness location testimony is. Experts may then use a program such as PC Crash to input data and create a simulation of the incident.

expert making a simulation

You can overlay the PC Crash simulation outputs with the location diagram you’ve made and give it to the expert to confirm that it’s accurate, to scale and matches the expert’s opinion. Then, you can use this for mediation on screen or on a poster board, assured that it is accurate and has foundation.

Another good visual tool to develop for mediation are storyboards, which visually summarize complex depo testimony and show through pictures what happened or should have happened (see prior post on how to create storyboards for your case).

Simulations and storyboards will help the mediator understand your argument and show all sides involved that you are ready to go to trial if necessary. If you don’t settle your case, the good news is you’re really ready for trial because you’ve developed this visual foundation that will be effective in front of a judge and jury.

Belli Presentation copy.017

3. Before Trial

Once you have these diagrams and storyboards done, and once the experts have done their work, you can go the extra step and create a 3D animation based on the data and images accumulated so far. (Click here to watch the animation pictured in the still image below.)

vehicle animation sample

Visualizing the injury is also important for your case, to enhance juror understanding of what happened anatomically. Given that MRIs and X-rays are very difficult to understand, it’s a good idea to graphically enhance these raw medical images with labels, colors and other treatment to make them more comprehensible to the lay person:

med illustration sample

Finally, you may want to create a timeline for trial that shows the chronology of the incident and medical treatment:

PI case timeline sample

You can watch my full 10-minute presentation below. I’m available to make this presentation—and modify it to focus on litigation graphics in other areas of the law—for groups of attorneys at law firms or bar associations; please contact me if you’re interested.

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