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Michael Kelleher

An Infographic Lesson for Litigators

God's Curse SlaveryWe recommend to our readers a recent New Yorker article by Gareth Cook entitled Why Abraham Lincoln Loved Infographics. Cook’s New Yorker article discusses Lincoln’s “slave map” as an early example of an infographic.

Infographics—such as maps and charts that visualize data—are a powerful communication tool for litigators. As Cook explains, infographics take “information that is not easy for us to absorb … and put it into a form … that the brain can interpret with speed.”


Slave Population Map

Cook’s article discusses how Abraham Lincoln often studied a “slave map,” an early form of infographic, which showed the distribution of the slave population in the pre-Civil War South. This map helped Lincoln understand that the South was not uniform in its commitment to slavery. Cook goes on to explain that infographics harness the brain’s highly-evolved ability to interpret visual patterns.

Litigators can and should use infographics as a way to show patterns and suggest conclusions that would be hard to glean from presenting pages of numbers from spreadsheets. For example, by showing patterns of data, an infographic can lead an audience to a conclusion of causation as in the graphic below showing the high incidence of automotive accidents along a particular stretch of road. (This earlier post explains how our firm’s designer used Adobe Illustrator combined with Excel to create the graph below.)

Accident data

For more samples of early map infographics, we also recommend Susan Schulten’s book and website “Mapping the Nation: History & Cartography in 19th Century America.” Schulten’s website is cited in Cook’s article and is the source of the thumbnail map at the start of this post. For one of the best examples of present-day multimedia data visualization, we also recommend this earlier post that spotlights a video with cutting-edge graphics.

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