How to Turn Financial Data into Trial Graphics to Tell a Story


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Reading and understanding balance sheets, income statements or cash flow statements might be commonplace for you and your expert, but it’s not for the average juror. Most jurors find this type of data dry and difficult to understand. Unless your jurors have some background in finance or own their own businesses, chances are financial reports are like a foreign language.

We regularly reinforce the need to tell a compelling story to jurors. That requirement doesn’t disappear just because a case deals with financial data. In fact, in cases with an abundance of financial data, it becomes even more important that an attorney explain to jurors the meaning of the data in a clear and engaging way that helps them understand the case themes and supports the case story. Though this task is difficult for even the most seasoned trial attorney, effective trial graphics can help.

Telling a Story with Spreadsheets and Trial Graphics

Figures 1 and 2 are examples of trial graphics illustrating the declining cash on hand that led to a startup company’s demise. In Figure 1, we have a typical data chart, copied and pasted from an Excel spreadsheet, with minimal formatting of fonts and colors. While the red color wash communicates the company had a loss of cash, Figure 2 shows the same data brought to life with multiple visual elements. Both trial graphics convey the same information, but only Figure 2 tells a story.

As we all know, every story needs a beginning, middle and end. Notice that Figure 2 contains these elements. The beginning and ending amounts are emphasized in the graphic, and the summary label at the last data point tells the middle of the story. This graphic effectively tells the case story and requires very little extra explanation. What’s more, this trial graphic would be just as effective when presented in PowerPoint, where data can be introduced in stages, as it would be as a blowup board.

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Figure 1: Spreadsheet representation of data.

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Figure 2: Visual line graph representation of data.

Top 5 Visual Elements for Designing Effective Trial Graphics from Spreadsheets

When designing graphics to illustrate financial or other types of data in spreadsheets (e.g., employment data, etc.), these five tips will help to keep the information manageable while communicating your story.

  1. Choose the most powerful visual to represent your data.  If your data is limited, a simple chart with a few rows and column is sufficient.  When you have more data, consider plotting data points on a graph or using pie charts and bar charts.
  2. Show only what needs to be shown.  Since Excel workbooks are often enormous, with multiple worksheets, they can be visually overwhelming.  Of course you will need to introduce the exhibit and show the entire spreadsheet to the court, but once you have done that, show only the relevant columns or rows needed to make your point.
  3. Use animations to gradually reveal your story. Once you have decided which columns and rows are relevant, consider bringing them on-screen one by one. This is especially helpful when you or your expert needs to refute the way opposing counsel’s expert has interpreted a formula or data.
  4. Use color fills and highlighting when possible. Just like you would do with document call-outs, always look for a way to emphasize your key data by highlighting a certain cell, row or column. As in Figures 1 and 2, the color can help tell your story – i.e., red emphasizes the losses incurred by the startup company.
  5. Add labels. Emphasize important data with labels to point jurors to beginning and ending data points or other important details.

Remember: Translating your data into a trial graphic can open you up to objections from opposing counsel. Prepare for this eventuality by creating several visual representations of the data ahead of time. Use PowerPoint in case you have to quickly edit your slides based on objections.
Conclusion
Never overlook an opportunity to tell a story. Financial data offers that opportunity. Far from being a dry recitation of boring figures, these reports can be presented to the jury as compelling visuals that tell a story and support your case themes.

Adam-Bloomberg

By:  Adam Bloomberg, Managing Director -Visual Communications

 

 

 

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