There is only one true measure of a good legal graphic: does it persuade the trier of fact to “buy in” to your client’s point of view? That, after all, is the point of any courtroom presentation, and it makes no sense to spend your time (or your client’s money) creating graphics that won’t have a positive impact on the judge’s opinion or the jury’s vote.
Even with the best of intentions, however, many graphics fail to deliver. They simply have not been designed to change hearts and minds. To discover where the problem lies, let’s look at the panoply of legal graphics.
The most commonly produced type of courtroom graphic is the reiterative graphic. As its name implies, it reiterates key case information.
Reiterative graphics are great for:
- Presenting statistics or tracking trends,
- Providing tutorials on virtually any subject, or
- Condensing case facts and information into one simple image that jurors can easily absorb and remember.
But reiterative graphics rarely convince judges or juries to see the case through your client’s eyes. The reason is simple: reiterative graphics typically appeal only to the intellect.
To have an impact on the verdict, you must forge an emotional bond between fact finders and your client. That’s the job that conceptual graphics are designed to do.
- Deliver your key case themes & messages
- Reinforce your case story
- Translate your case story into indelible images, and ideally…
- Provoke an emotional response
A graphic that delivers your key case themes or reinforces your case story is of obvious value. So, too, is a graphic that turns words or concepts into memorable images.
But why is provoking an emotional response so critical? Because decades of research have shown that people are ruled by their emotions, not their intellect.
In fact, virtually every decision we make is dictated by one subconscious but universal need: to feel good about ourselves. Whether we’re making major life decisions (what career to pursue; which house to buy; whom to marry), or are simply making everyday choices (which suit shall I wear?), we are subconsciously satisfying our need to be able to look ourselves in the mirror and feel good about who we see.
Of course, we think we’re basing our decisions on rational thought and clear-eyed intellectual evaluation. We often tout product benefits and features as proof. But psychologists — and advertisers — know better. Madison Avenue regularly exploits our emotional needs in order to seduce us into buying all kinds of things we don’t physically need, perhaps can’t afford, but just have to have.
In court, judges and jurors are ruled by emotion too. No matter how objective they vow to be — and no matter how high the “mountain of evidence” you build — in the end, a judge will rule, and jurors will vote, not with their heads, but with their hearts. Both may quote the law, cite the facts, or tout the evidence as justification, but they will find for your client only when they can feel good about themselves in doing so. The process is largely subconscious, but self-interest trumps intellect every time.
Conceptual graphics are designed to capitalize on that viewer self-interest. They do so by strategically exploiting the viewer’s worldview.
A worldview is the sum of all the beliefs, prejudices, and attitudes a person has accumulated over a lifetime. It is the prism of preconceived notions through which a person perceives reality — the mindset with which he/she travels through life.
While each person’s worldview is a function of his/her cultural, socio-economic, educational, religious, and racial background, his/her psychological make-up, and his/her life experiences, there are many widely held beliefs that people share.
COMMONLY HELD BELIEFS
Punishment should fit the crime.
A promise made should be a promise kept.
An apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
When your case story and your graphics reinforce, confirm, or validate what fact finders already believe, your odds of winning increase dramatically. The trick is in knowing exactly what fact finders believe relevant to the specific issues in your case.
If you’re facing a bench trial, you must research prior rulings (or discreetly poll court personnel), to gain insight into the judge’s point of view on your type of case. If you’re facing a jury trial, formal jury research is the best way to determine jurors’ worldviews. Research is indispensable in complex civil litigation, but is advisable in simpler cases too. Many a litigator has lost a case assuming that jurors’ beliefs mirrored their own.
Whether you do formal research, or rely on your instinct and experience instead, winning hinges on your ability to identify which commonly held belief “trumps” another in fact finders’ minds.
For example, in a criminal defense case, jurors who believe that “Murder is morally wrong” might still acquit because they more strongly believe that “Accidents happen,” “Love makes us do foolish things,” or that “Insane people can’t be held accountable for their actions.”
Once you’ve determined your fact finders’ beliefs, conceptual graphics can capitalize on and reinforce those beliefs.
In a patent infringement case, for example, the verdict might hinge on jurors’ ability to comprehend the Doctrine of Equivalents. If you take the reiterative approach and merely state the doctrine, certainly some of the jurors will get the message.
The Reiterative Approach
Translate those words into an image that exploits a commonly held belief, however, and jurors will not only “get” the message, they will more likely adopt it as their own.
The Conceptual Approach
Conceptual graphics need not always be so explicit to be effective. They can be just as powerful when their underlying themes are not stated, merely implied.
In a medical malpractice case, for example, it was imperative that jurors realize that a baby’s cognitive and physical deficits may not have been caused by doctors’ mistakes. The graphic below reinforced the commonly held belief that there is usually more than one way that something can occur (“Many roads lead to Rome”), and opened jurors’ minds to the possibility that Mother Nature, not the doctor, was at fault.
While conceptual graphics typically use strong visuals to evoke a visceral response, words alone can be used to trigger emotions.
For example, in representing the Plaintiff in an insurance bad faith case, you might explain the purpose of health insurance in generic terms during Opening Statement…
Reiterative Graphic Designed for Opening Statement
Documentary Evidence Presented in a Reiterative Graphic for Case-in-Chief
…use Case-in-Chief to establish (through witness testimony and documentary evidence) that the Defendant’s sales brochures made similar promises…
Conceptual Graphic Designed for Closing Argument
…then pull out the stops in Closing Argument by using a conceptual graphic that delivers your key case theme with an emotional kicker.
What you have done, strategically, is to…
(1) Use Opening Statement to exploit commonly held beliefs and trigger juror self-interest; (“Yes, that’s why I buy insurance.”)
(2) Introduce documentary evidence within that (now personalized) context; and…
(3) “Seal the deal” in Closing Argument by unleashing jurors’ visceral fears of betrayal and abandonment. (“How would I feel if my insurer did that to my family?”)
You have not only framed the key issue to your client’s advantage, but you’ve raised the stakes for jurors, forcing them to “put some skin in the game.” Jurors will now be more likely to care about the outcome of the case, and will be much more likely to identify with your client’s plight.
When used in tandem with conceptual graphics, “reiterative” graphics can thus function in a conceptual way, both triggering the visceral response and providing the intellectual rationale fact finders need to justify their emotionally-based decisions. The Opening Statement “reiterative” graphic in the sample above has done exactly that. It is a conceptual graphic masquerading in reiterative form.
Would judges or jurors be as ready to “buy in” to the Plaintiff’s point of view if only reiterative graphics were used? Not likely. Information alone rarely prompts a change of heart. Conceptual graphics exploit a point of view – the viewer’s worldview – providing the emotional “hook” that compels fact finders to vote in your favor and feel good about doing so. They have found validation because you have confirmed what they already “know” or believe.
The strategic use of reiterative and conceptual graphics is at the heart of Conceptual Persuasion.SM Use it to change minds and hearts, and you’ll maximize your odds of winning every case, every time.
Karyn J. Taylor (email@example.com) is a trial consultant and visual storyteller based in Los Angeles. A former broadcast journalist (60 Minutes, 20/20, Frontline) trained to make the complex compellingly simple, she helps clients maximize the persuasive power of testimony, argument, and evidence. To learn more about Karyn and her approach to maximizing your odds of winning, visit www.thestrategicimage.com. To use the copyrighted graphics in this article for your trial, mediation, or arbitration, please contact the author.
Citation for this article: The Jury Expert, 20(4), 1-7.