by Lorraine Kestle
The age-old adage that there are two sides (at least) to every story is clearly evident in litigation. Both parties believe that the applicable law, when applied to the facts, supports their position, or they likely would not be going to court. The parties and the lawyers are familiar with the facts and the law. Everyone fully understands the nuances of their position.
Everyone, that is, but the judge and jury who are hearing the case for the first time. It is these “novices to the case” who will ultimately decide which version of the facts or story is most persuasive.
For one day, I was a “novice to the case” in the courtroom as I helped our trial technician set up for a PowerPoint presentation in court. I observed both sides’ opening statements as well as the direct and cross-examinations.
Although I have been in the courtroom on numerous occasions, I had no prior knowledge of the substance of this matter and did not work on this presentation. Our client, the plaintiff in this case, delivered an opening statement that was enhanced with a PowerPoint presentation, while opposing counsel relied on typed or handwritten notes and an easel with a large paper tablet. After observing both approaches, I came away with what I think are interesting conclusions about the effect that the PowerPoint presentation had on my understanding of the case, the attorney’s arguments, and my initial impression of liability.
1. An Increased Perception Of Preparation, Competence And Persuasion
As a former paralegal, I know that preparation is one of the keys to success in litigation. And while I believe both sides were equally prepared, this was not the impression created in the courtroom by defendant’s counsel. What set the opening statements apart was the PowerPoint presentation used by our client. It served as a baseline of comparison for what followed.
The PowerPoint presentation not only emphasized key components of the opening statement, but it also added an air of competency and depth to the arguments being made. There was a clear, logical, and concise flow of information that was easy to follow. The visual presentation and callouts of relevant portions of emails and the employment contract clearly substantiated the verbal argument. This ultimately increased the impact of and the persuasive value of the opening statement. I have a clear visual picture of those emails and the contract that were the cornerstone evidence in the plaintiff’s case, even if I cannot recall the exact wording.
When defendant’s counsel did not use any visual or graphic presentations to support the opening statement, my first thought was, “Why is that?” My focus was not where it should have been; it was not on what he was saying. In fact, I was distracted by the numerous sheets of paper defense counsel brought to the podium and the yellow Post-it notes that were on it. It gave me the impression that they were less prepared than the plaintiff, which may or may not be the case. Nonetheless, this was my initial impression and I think ultimately influenced my view of their argument.
2. Increased Retention of Evidence Presented
For me, the evidence presented had greater weight when I could actually see the email communications that were made and the contract that was signed by the defendant. The document exhibit callouts, in particular, which supported the plaintiff’s arguments, became visually imprinted on my mind. And I received no other visual images from the defendant to compare or contrast them with. When I look back on that day, it is the callouts that I recall. This is what I remember, more than three days later.
3. Increased Attention to Arguments
When you are sitting behind the bar in the courtroom, you have a limited view of the exhibits and evidence being presented. However, when the PowerPoint slides were tied into the court’s monitors, it was much easier to see the evidence being offered. I found that I paid closer attention to the arguments being made; I was actively engaged in “looking” at the evidence to see if I agreed with what the lawyer was saying. I could see that everyone, including the judge, was looking at the courtroom monitors.
On the other hand, when the defendant’s counsel was creating a live, hand-drawn organizational chart during cross-examination, not only could I not see it due to its orientation in the courtroom, I felt that it was too far away from the individual who was testifying and the judge. It was more difficult to follow the argument being made.
In conclusion, when I left court that day, I felt that the opening statement set the tone for everything that followed. The effective use of a PowerPoint presentation during the trial enhanced the arguments being made and, at the end of the day, our client prevailed. I can’t say I’m surprised at the outcome. They had me during opening statements.
Other A2L Consulting articles and resources related to persuading with graphics, opening statements and using words and pictures in a complimentary way:
- 5 Ways to Maximize Persuasion During Opening Statements - Part 1
- 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations
- 12 Reasons Bullet Points Are Bad (in Trial Graphics or Anywhere)
- Why Reading Your Litigation PowerPoint Slides Hurts Jurors
- 6 Studies That Support Litigation Graphics in Courtroom Presentations
- Why Reading Bullet Points in Litigation Graphics Hurts You
- The 12 Worst PowerPoint Mistakes Litigators Make
- 16 PowerPoint Litigation Graphics You Won't Believe Are PowerPoint
- 16 Litigation Graphics Lessons for Mid-Sized Law Firms
- 6 Trial Presentation Errors Lawyers Can Easily Avoid
- 21 Reasons a Litigator Is Your Best Litigation Graphics Consultant
- 5 Problems with Trial Graphics
- 10 Reasons The Litigation Graphics You DO NOT Use Are Important
- 5 Demonstrative Evidence Tricks and Cheats to Watch Out For
- 6 Trial Presentation Errors Lawyers Can Easily Avoid
- The 14 Most Preventable Trial Preparation Mistakes
- Trial Timelines and the Psychology of Demonstrative Evidence
- How Long Before Trial Should I Begin Preparing My Trial Graphics?
- Free Download: Storytelling for Litigators
- Free Watch: Using PowerPoint Litigation Graphics to Win Your Case