Each new case brings a special pressure you know all too well: budgeting your time and your client’s money efficiently and effectively. Along the way, crucial elements, such as your trial graphics, may fall by the wayside, but waiting too long to begin work on them may prove costly. Given their persuasive and communicative power in the courtroom, hastily assembled graphics can undermine even the strongest cases.
As with so many important questions, the simple answer to “When should I start work on my graphics?” is a resounding, “It depends” – on the size, complexity and stakes of the case. Refer to the following guidelines to build a timeline that’s right for your case:
Significant, Complex Cases
These are your big ones: high-stakes, highly technical, expert-driven or just plain dense. Intellectual property, product defect and accident reconstructions all fall in this category and take time to conceptualize and develop.
Juror comprehension is the anchor of your case; if the average juror will struggle to understand its esoteric jargon, complicated underlying technology or extensive chronology, you’ll want ample time to really hone those graphics.
The ideal time to start your graphics development in these types of cases is one to two years before trial. Of course, giving yourself up to two years may sound like a lot, but there are a few major reasons to keep graphics a priority early:
- Your own understanding of the case may benefit. Putting together graphics forces you to sum up major points clearly and concisely, and will test your own understanding of the case. Doing so can actually help crystallize your arguments, your case’s strengths and its weaknesses.
- You want to tell the best story in the best way—and the best way isn’t always obvious. A graphic that makes sense to the attorney may fall flat with an overwhelmed jury. Tutorial graphics, in particular, should be created with your expert(s) before they testify in deposition. And don’t forget: maximizing your graphics’ potency will surely mean a fair share of revision and refinement, so have those graphics up and ready to test – especially if you plan to leverage feedback from a mock trial.
- Things can (and often do) change. You need to be prepared to adapt your strategy quickly and smoothly. Worrying about graphics too late in the process could take those adjustments from stressful to unbearable. Alternatively, if your case needs to be explained to the judge (e.g., in support of or in opposition to a motion for summary judgment), having graphics already prepared could prove invaluable.
Simpler, Lower-Risk Cases
In this category, you are telling a story based on facts and concepts that most jurors would find accessible. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need graphics to drive your points home. Your visuals will likely rely more on timelines, graphs, flowcharts or document callouts. A great example of this category is your average commercial litigation. Planning and developing these graphics usually takes between one and three months.
If you realize the details of your case are becoming more numerous or elaborate than they first appeared, we recommend sticking closer to the three month side of the estimate (or more if you can spare it).
Caveat: Every case is different, and we all know that the moving target of trial preparation can preclude early preparation. It is always possible to assemble effective, basic demonstratives in a matter of hours or days; it’s just much more difficult. With very short turnaround times, it’s challenging to work efficiently. The consideration, planning and refinement of messages that contribute to a persuasive, memorable demonstrative require time and reflection.
Maybe time is just not on your side. Maybe there’s been an unexpected development. Maybe that idea for the perfect graphic for your closing argument hits you at the midnight hour.
Whatever the reason, you need a graphic and you need it fast. Here are some quick tips to maximize its effectiveness in a pinch:
- Simplicity and clarity are paramount. Stick to our Basic Rules of Trial Graphics above all else and you’ll be fine.
- Skip the frills. Don’t take up precious time with animations and unnecessary indulgences. Be all business.
- Use every title to say something about the case. Don’t just call a timeline “Timeline” or a graph “Graph.” Go with “Road Map to Disaster” or “Path to Termination of Contract.”
- Got more than one graphic to make? Ask yourself, “Which are most important to telling the story of my case?” and really nail those.
- Consider simple graphics like testimony slides and check lists. These two concepts have been covered here.
Whether your case is complex, simple or somewhere in between, keep in mind the benefits of getting an early start. While graphics cannot always be your top priority, they are crucial to jury comprehension and may even inform your own understanding of the case. Taking the time to craft polished, influential graphics can only serve the case – as well as all the hard work you’ve devoted to its other facets.