Timelines: The Jury’s Roadmap to Your Case

“You can’t miss this event!” your friend exclaims.  “It’s simple.  The event is on the left-hand side of the street, two blocks down Lincoln Avenue.  You’ll hang a right onto Third, before the gas station.  Third is a few miles straight ahead once you exit – when you’re on the freeway, just keep your eyes open for exit 42.  Alright, then just continue down Third for a few blocks and hang another right on Lincoln.  Don’t forget to grab a bottle of wine, too….  There should be a supermarket near the freeway entrance.”

Confused?  Tempted to skip the event and stay home for the evening?

Then consider how a jury must feel when a complicated story gets told in bits and pieces, out of order, and is still expected to find its way to the proper destination (i.e., a verdict for your client). Now include a second attorney who provides a different set of directions altogether!

Timelines, by nature, are often the perfect graphic to solve this problem.  They’re the jury’s navigation app.  That may be why they’re the most widely used trial graphic of the last 20 years.

After all, proper chronology is one of the most important factors of an understandable case.  Our brains tend to work linearly; they think (and remember) in coherent stories.  The confounding route described above may be a bit absurd, but it still demonstrates a crucial lesson for any attorney: even if all the facts are there, your jury’s ability to comprehend and recall the key elements of your case – and to view you as a reliable source of information – will largely rely on their ability to identify a logical order of events.  The more work you can do for them in that regard, the better.

The Value of Strong Timelines

Much like checklists, timelines are invaluable because they are something to which everyone of every generation can relate.  We may not physically make them on a day-to-day basis, but our heads are certainly filled with them.  They manifest the core method by which we process a set of related events.

Good timelines can create a step-by-step story out of your case, walking each juror smoothly through an otherwise complex series of events.  They can take a jury back in time to explain the history of something related to your case.  Or, they can remind the jury of an important historical perspective:  consider a case in which the jury must evaluate the conduct of a party in light of the standards of a past time rather than with “20/20 hindsight.”

Unique Approaches to Timelines

Generally speaking, timelines involve data points placed along a linear scale; distances between entries reflect the amount of time between corresponding events.

But the anatomy of a timeline can and should vary depending not only on the subject matter you wish to represent, but the impression you want the jury to take away.  The time scale, for instance, can reflect centuries, years, minutes—even seconds or parts of seconds.  Occasionally, with very short or very long periods of time, you may find it useful to ditch the linear scale and employ a logarithmic one instead.

The scale you choose can visually affect the jurors’ sense of whether events happened quickly or slowly.  If a plaintiff waited ages to file a suit, for example, you would want to use a scale that calls attention to the lengthy gap between the events in question and the subsequent suit.

Meanwhile, your data points can be labeled in various ways to best serve your arguments, be it with text, numbers or icons.

Examples of Timelines

Let’s take a look at a few common timeline types:

  • Traditional Timelines

    • Employ a horizontal bar and are read left to right.
    • Great for stories with a straightforward beginning, middle and end.

timelines-jury-trial

  • Calendar Timelines

    • Can be used in conjunction with a traditional timeline and allow you to drill down on specific days in a case. If your date range only requires a few days, you can use large fonts and more icons to tell your story. Arranging data points vertically along a traditional horizontal bar is another way to accomplish this effect.

courtroom-graphics-timelines

  • Multi-layered Timelines

    • Great for depicting coinciding or parallel sequences of events.
      • E.g., events your client participated in or was aware of vs. events occurring without their knowledge, a race between two companies to develop and launch competing products, etc.

legal-timelines-graphiclitigation-timelines-trial-graphics

Conclusion

A truly effective timeline is so much more than just a list of events and dates. It can do triple duty: ordering events chronologically, telling a compelling story and reinforcing your trial themes in jurors’ minds. Professional graphics teams are trained to identify the best possible format to deliver your message. Let us help you best present your case through a creative and effective timeline.

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


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