Seeing Eye to Eye with a Jury - VAK and Visual Learners
By Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.
President and CEO
Animators at Law (1)
Imagine yourself seated in the audience of an oak-paneled courtroom where an attorney
is passionately persuading a twelve-member jury. What did you see in your mind’s eye?
Whether that mental image is from a recent court appearance, a cinematic courtroom
drama or from last night’s Law and Order, chances are you pictured a litigator lecturing
before a jury. You probably did not visualize a litigator holding up an exhibit, aiming a
laser pointer at a projected presentation or animation or manipulating a scale model of
what is at issue. Based on a new study,2 however, those missing communication tools are
precisely what are necessary for a litigator to communicate effectively with jurors.
This study makes two key findings. First, jurors are by and large visually oriented.
Second, attorneys are more likely than the general population to try to communicate,
teach and persuade only by speaking, and are also less likely to use visual communication
tools. Thus, significant and natural differences exist in the way attorneys and non-attorneys
prefer to communicate and learn.
The Study & Its Implications — Animators at Law conducted the study over a three-year
period from 2003 to 2006. During that time, 387 practicing attorneys and 1657 non-attorneys
completed an online survey designed to assess their dominant learning style. A
dominant learning style describes how each person prefers to learn, broken down into
three categories: (1) visual (seeing), (2) auditory (hearing) and (3) kinesthetic (feeling).
Everyone is a blend of the three styles, but one style is typically dominant. When
teaching or persuading others, we tend to use our own dominant learning style to
communicate. That is, an auditory learner will attempt to communicate by speaking
while a visual learner will attempt to teach with pictures, regardless of the preferences of
The differences in learning and communication styles between attorneys and non-attorneys
are surprisingly significant. Based on the results of the study, a typical twelve-person
jury would likely be composed of 7 “visual” jurors, 3 “feeling” jurors and only 2
“hearing” jurors. Practicing attorneys, on the other hand, were shown to be far less likely
(less than half) to be visual in nature and were ten percent more likely to be
hearing/speaking-dominant. When combined with the tendency of most lawyers to use
the courtroom for only communication through speech (i.e., “hearing” communication),
this juror/attorney communication gap is exponentially inflated. Recall that courtroom
scene of the attorney speaking, and now consider for a moment that only two of the
twelve-person jury prefer to be spoken to as their primary means of learning.
Three Practical Steps for Effective Juror Communications — We all hope that our
communications are clearly understood, especially in the courtroom. What is a modern
litigator to do if he or she desires the maximum clarity of communication with this new
knowledge? The study results suggest that many attorneys must first become aware of
their tendency to communicate mostly by speaking, and must adapt instead to the
audience they are speaking to.
Here are three practical tips that will aid in achieving the
maximum clarity in persuasive communications:
1) Speak to All Three Learning Styles – One of the skills of best-selling authors
is that they speak to all three communication styles. Read a few pages in a best-selling
novel, and on the same page, it would not be uncommon read about the
sounds of the forest, the feel of the damp heavy air and a color so green that it
reminded him of what he had only seen before in the hills of Ireland. The
example, of course, points out the use of language that one would typically
associate with the three learning/communication styles. Modern best-selling
authors and editors are intentionally adding such language to speak to the widest
audience possible, and the courtroom environment should be no different. Use a
combination of phrases like “I hope you can see where this leaves us?” “I hope
you are hearing this message” and “can you imagine what that might feel like?”
2) Use Visual and Kinesthetic Evidence – I recently watched a mock trial where
a litigator presented limited visual evidence on a scientific fact in dispute. Later, I
watched behind one-way glass as the mock jurors, clearly favoring the opposition,
noted that “they had just seen more science” from opposing counsel. That
litigator had “shown” the jury many more scientific exhibits using visual aids.
Given that a majority of jurors are visual in nature, this reaction was not
surprising. It is simply imperative to use visual evidence to communicate with
3) If it is a Critical Point, Use Visual Evidence to Emphasize the Point – An
ABA study has found that juror memory retention is increased 650% when oral
communications are combined with visual communications.3 Today, litigators
will almost always use visual evidence such as documents, photographs and
exhibits for substantive portions of a case. The gap between these so-called oldstyle
litigators and the new no longer lies in the use of evidence and technology,
as most have embraced both to one degree or another – today’s modern litigator,
recognizing the need to combine oral and visual evidence, will also include
creative exhibits in their presentation that “show” the jury key legal arguments,
not just key documents. Always remember, a majority of the jury needs to see the
information. Anytime the jury must remember the point, show them and tell
Educational psychology is quickly finding its way into the courtroom. To build a
winning case, you must be understood. To be understood, you must cater to the learning
styles of a jury. The new rule of litigation success may very well be that the side that is
most understood wins. Using basic learning/communication psychology, one can rest
assured that they are being understood – and remembered – to the maximum possible
1 Animators at Law is an eleven-year old attorney owned and operated litigation
consulting and trial exhibit company comprised of talented information designers and
creative attorneys. We regularly serve top-tier law firms and companies in a variety of
practice areas and give them an Unfair Advantage™ in the courtroom and beyond. Our
core business is making complex information interesting and understandable to lay
audiences using static trial exhibits, electronic presentations and animation. We also
provide in-court support personnel to facilitate the seamless presentation of graphics and
electronic evidence. From strategy to presentation, we are creative and reliable
perfectionists who help top litigators win at trial.
2 The Animators at Law 2007 Attorney Communication Style Study. More information on
the study may be found at http://www.animators.com/ or by contacting the author of this
article at email@example.com.
3 1992 ABA Journal citing The Weiss McGrath Report.