by Ken Lopez Founder/CEO A2L Consulting
For any trial lawyer, writing an opening or closing statement is one of the best parts of a trial. It lets us use our writing skills, speaking skills, and persuasion skills like no other moment of trial. I happen to believe that the opening statement is the single most important part of a trial.
I have had the great pleasure of working closely with hundreds of world's best litigators since 1995. One common theme they communicate is that they see simplifying their case, prior to walking into the courtroom, as part of their job. Today, I am writing to share about a 'new' tool designed quite precisely for this purpose. The new tool is a modern software version of a decades-old technique modeled on centuries-old principles. In general this tool facilitates the visualization of complex and interrelated ideas. Specifically, I am talking about a process called mind mapping. Mind mapping is a 60s-era-sounding term for an activity that seems, at first glance, like it must have certainly been born on the left-coast. In a sense, both of those things are true. It was in fact developed in the era between the 50s and 70s, and it was born on a left coast of sorts. However, this 'left coast' is really the western suburbs of London. Regardless of mind mapping's nonconformist origins, I believe it has a place in the toolkit of the modern litigator. After all, many thought-leading litigation trends were born in California or places like it (e.g. demonstrative evidence, jury research, courtroom animation, etc.). A small version of a 30 inch x 90 inch litigation mind map is shown below. I encourage you to download a full-sized .pdf version of the actual chart to get a feel for how it is laid out. This sample mind map is based on a group of cases where we have used mind mapping as a system for quickly understanding a complex case in a short period of time, brainstorming a trial presentation approach and laying out specific exhibits. In this chart, green circles represent likely demonstrative exhibits, red boxes represent problems with our case that require additional strategic attention and the yellow boxes contain the background information on the case, trial team and strategy. The same approach we take for trial graphics development can easily be taken by a trial team organizing a complex case with many experts, theories and potential trial strategies. In addition to the obvious organizational benefits, the beauty of using this approach is just how easily one can pick up where one left off. I have gone a month or more between deeply complicated meetings and been able to start precisely where we left off without spending time trying to re-teach the team everything that was discussed weeks or months before. This is one of those benefits that I think one has to experience to believe. While litigation-specific tools do exist that offer a some of the features in today's mind mapping software, I prefer using a flexible tool that works very well. I have used two products: 1) Tony Buzan's iMindMap (he is considered the father of modern mind mapping); and 2) Mindjet's MindManager. I prefer the latter, as I find it to be a bit more business-oriented. When working with our firm on trial presentation strategy, we will likely be using mind mapping either internally or overtly. However, we are interested in testing this approach with a trial team at the front-end of a case rather than within the time period we are more typically consulting with the trial team (6 months prior to trial). If you would be interested in testing this technique with your trial team, we are willing to do so gratis for a limited number of trial teams working complicated cases with at least $10 million at stake. The output will be a wall chart for your team that you can refer to on an ongoing basis.