Part II -The 7 Keys to Effective Litigation Timelines

Our final four distinguishers are all about words, and how you use them. Despite the value of non-verbal cues discussed in Part I, words have their own indispensable place in your timeline—and can themselves be powerful visual cues:

4) Font Choices in Trial Graphics Are About Legibility, Not Flair

Always start with legibility. As a general rule, stick to good-looking, relatively unadorned font types that are easy to read; some fonts might look great on a holiday card, but a jury squinting to make out your text won’t be so appreciative.

As far as size is concerned, keep in mind that on average, jurors sit roughly 15-30 feet away from your screen. Assuming you have a large projector screen, a font size of 14-18 pt is a nice baseline.

5) Trial Graphics with Thoughtful Hierarchy of Information Highlight Your Themes

Your use of font, size, style (bold, italics, etc.), color, and placement will have a notable impact on what the jury prioritizes. Such elements play a role in guiding the viewer’s eyes across your graphic, with those elements of highest contrast drawing the eyes first. Since contrast is important anyway to break up monotony (read: to keep the jury interested) using that contrast to prioritize your information is a natural next step. (See Figure 1)

There are many ways to create contrast. Larger words or shapes, more complex looking objects, discernible patterns, and bolder colors will all inherently draw extra attention.

 

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Figure 1: Note the hierarchy in the titles, descriptions, and summaries

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Figure 1: Note the hierarchy in the titles, descriptions, and summaries

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Figure 1: Note the hierarchy in the titles, descriptions, and summaries

Decide which pieces are most important to your timeline and feature those prominently. Choose sparingly to avoid diluting the impact; if all of your text is shouting, none of it will be heard. For example, you’d likely want to emphasize your key events rather than, say, your date/time markers.

When in doubt, try thinking worst-case: “If the entire jury suddenly loses focus after 10 seconds, what must they absolutely have taken away from this graphic?”

6) Word Economy & Word Choice Keep Your Trial Graphic Punchy

Attorneys often struggle to cut down on their wordiness. In a timeline, such economy is even more important. The real estate on your graphic is scarce and valuable. You can talk in complete sentences, but your timeline doesn’t need to. Use sentence fragments, bullets, and icons liberally for the sake of rapid juror comprehension.  (See Figure 2)

Bottom line: When only words will do, use them sparingly.

Of course, any poetry professor would be quick to tell you: when dealing with few words, each word must carry that much more weight. Choosing the right words, therefore, is not always painless; you may be surprised by the amount of time and thought required to make the most of a graphic’s text.

Here are a couple of tips to get you started:

    • Clarity is your primary concern. Avoid terms of art, overly-technical jargon, and obscure SAT-style vocab.
    • Choose words that capture attention. Occasionally, it may do to take a page from the ad executives. Where appropriate, certain words have a seemingly magical way of capturing attention. Not all are relevant to litigation, but here are two particularly effective words for which you may indeed find a place:
      • “You” – Nothing grabs attention like being talked to directly. Get personal.
      • “Because” – “Because,” and what inherently follows, provides a reason. Even a weak reason has been shown to be more persuasive than none at all.

But ultimately, you need to be spending dedicated time with your graphics consultants, fellow attorneys, experts, and clients, going over every word you choose. Don’t assume a jury will understand something just because you find it to be simple; triple-check. Furthermore, your experts will need the language in your graphics to match language with which they can testify.

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Figure 2: Showing the use of short, succinct entries on a timeline

7) The Title Is Your Graphic’s Headline, Tagline, and Selling Point

One of the very first graphics questions we always ask a client is, “What are you going to call this?” Alas, the most common response is something along the lines of, “Well, I was thinking ‘Timeline or Key Events.’” (See Figure 3)

As we reiterate in many of our blog posts, your graphic titles are prime territory to reinforce your point in jurors’ heads. “Personal History” is nowhere near as powerful or persuasive as “Path to Termination.” Always pick a title that will best sum up the goal of your timeline. (See Figure 4)

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Figure 3: Note the title of Figure 3 versus the title of Figure 4 below

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Figure 4: Note the title of Figure 3 above versus the title of Figure 4

Conclusion

So there you have it: seven elements to bear in mind any time you’re considering a timeline for your case (and we recommend considering them often). Timelines are a classic trial graphic with tons of modern potential. These tips will help assure that potential doesn’t go unrealized.  And don’t hesitate to let us know what questions we can answer or how we can help, as you are designing your timelines.

Adam-Bloomberg  By:  Adam Bloomberg, Director – Visual Communications