The Advantage Blog

Can the Slow Pace of Trial Keep Up with Our Fast-Paced World?

May 28, 2013 | By |

Rushing through the C terminal of SeaTac Airport hoping to catch an earlier shuttle to Portland, I was pleased to see that every business and service around me attempted to accommodate my jet setter lifestyle. The Massage Bar enticed me to relax with a “15 minute short shot;” Butter™London promised a “waterless express manicure,” and Beechers suggested I, “Rush in and grab lunch to go.” I didn’t have time for any of those things. I was too busy eyeballing the “standby list” eager to get home an hour earlier than planned. Alas, the 2 p.m. flight came and went, and there I sat next to a 20-something kid who provided me with 30 minutes of entertainment and the inspiration for this blog.

His lap housed his MacBook and a half eaten pizza. One of his hands controlled a web-based computer game and the other propped up his iPhone two inches from his nose so he could FaceTime with the player on the other end of his interactive game. They were simultaneously giving each other directions about their next move, and complaining about living at home during summer break. It occurred to me that this kid, living in his double-screen world, could very well end up sitting in the jury box of your next trial. If he’s lucky, there will be a single foam-core poster board proudly displaying page 4 of a key document. And if he’s really lucky, there may be a PowerPoint show containing 40 bullet-pointed slides explaining the expert’s opinion. But, there won’t be interactive games or FaceTime connections with friends four states away.

How can the courtroom compete with the fast-paced, “at your fingertips” culture in which we live? The easiest answer is to make your next trial a multi-media experience. Think about visually supplementing your spoken word as often as possible. Don’t just talk about the witnesses who will testify − show pictures of them. When you talk about documents, call them up with Trial Director (or a similar document retrieval system), and highlight, enlarge, or “call out” text. Use a flip chart and a red pen to write up new terms the jury will learn throughout the trial. Create several key thematic demonstrative exhibits that introduce key players, lay out the chronology of events, explain the burden of proof, or provide a tutorial of a complex process.

For years, I’ve advised,  “Don’t create visuals for visuals’ sake.” But I think the young man and his FaceTime pal would disagree with me. Their brains are accustomed to seeing everything they hear. They want to be visually entertained. They want their attention grabbed every three minutes. They want to “see what you have to say.” So today, I advise, “Use as many visual tools as you can without becoming a distraction.” In addition to all the benefits that come from “showing and telling,” a multi-media trial will meet the demands of today’s screen-time culture.

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