Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Tell Your Story with Timelines


Now that we are coming out of the pandemic and going back into the courtroom, it’s wise to start considering how best to persuade jurors.

An obvious point: the more complex the case, the more important it is that you simplify and clarify events and circumstances for the jurors. A timeline is one of the most effective ways to organize facts in a way that makes them relevant to jurors. We are used to stories being presented chronologically. The chronology alone often will tell the story. Use a timeline, or several, whenever possible. 

Timelines, whether on a board or projected onto a screen, should be presented with time on the horizontal axis whenever possible. It demonstrates the movement of time from left to right, a progression jurors are very familiar with. When presented with a timeline depicting time on a vertical axis, often favored by attorneys, jurors can be too easily confused.

A horizontal timeline also allows you to show events above and below the line representing time, be that in minutes, days or years. This is a very effective way to organize information. You can, for example, show the evidence that directly favors your case in “flags” above the date line, and show the inconsistencies in opposing counsel’s case in the flags below the date line. For example, as defense, you can contrast plaintiff’s stated behavior at points in time on the above the line flags, with the contradictory medical reports on the below the line flags. 

Timelines of any kind should be used creatively, not just as markers in time, but as ways to tell your story more persuasively.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Lingering Impact of Misinformation


In trial – or even at deposition – it’s often tempting to dismiss an aspect of opposing counsel’s theory as insignificant, or too “out there” for jurors to adopt, and therefore offer little in the way of an alternative theory. This is not a wise choice.

Results of a study published in Scientific American show how despite the correction of misinformation, people tend to retain misinformation. Subjects in the study were told first that an accident involved a busload of elderly individuals. One group of subjects was told that was incorrect, but not given an alternative version of who was on the bus. Another group was told that the accident actually involved a college hockey team. 

The group given an alternate version (“hockey team”) was less susceptible to responding with the original “misinformed” version (“elderly individuals”), yet even they agreed with certain statements such as “the passengers found it difficult to exit the bus because they were frail.” How can this be? Shouldn’t logic prevail? 

One wishes. Unfortunately, misinformation tends to linger in memory following the rule of precedence: what’s learned first tends to stick with us longer. So it is critical that you counter any theory, or expert witness testimony, or other evidence that you consider “misinformation,” boldly and with as much visual assistance (graphics, video, PowerPoint slides) as you can. Make sure that what sticks in memory is your interpretation of the case, not opposing counsel’s.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Good Writing = Organized Thought


Good writing is good writing. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the Great American Novel, a non-fiction work you’re sure will be the next best-seller, or an opening statement.

Good writing is good writing, and it starts from a simple premise. Organize your thoughts before you put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

A solid opening statement should have no more than three key points you absolutely want to convey to your jurors. Each key point should be easily captured in one short sentence. You can elaborate to your heart’s content following that key point, but in order for your jurors to comprehend your elaborations, you must provide that point. It is called a “key” point for a reason. It provides the key to your ensuing arguments.

Why three key points, tops? Because three points is the number of points most easily retained by the human mind. You need the jurors to retain your points! The sequence of said points is simple. The most critical should be stated first, and the second most important stated last. Whatever is in the middle (unfortunately) may end up forgotten.