When considering the kind of demonstrative evidence to use in the courtroom these days, the buzz word is "high tech." Why blow up a document and mount it on poster board, when the document can be put on laser disc - or CD ROM - and with the flick of a finger, at the appropriate time, projected on the screen for all the jurors to see?

Why use sketches and photographs of an accident when computer animations can be created that actually describe the accident in fluid movement, moment by moment?

This new technology - laser discs, CD ROM, computer animations - is valuable in the courtroom; on the other hand, a litigator does not necessarily need these high tech tools in order to put on an effective Visual Trial. When designed correctly, a low tech, low budget visual presentation is not only cost-effective, but compelling and persuasive.

Magnetic Boards: A Low Tech Alternative

Magnetic boards are a preferential medium for many kinds of cases - including large, technically complicated ones. These are poster boards mounted with a thin sheet of metal between the exhibit and the board. They are used with magnetic tiles, which are the building blocks for the exhibit, and added piece by piece to develop the story.

The basic exhibit, i.e., the "motherboard," is a relatively simple background visual upon which the exhibit develops; as the magnetic tiles are added, the exhibit gets more complicated and intricate. By the time the exhibit is wholly developed, it often tells the story of the whole case.

Advantages of Magnetic Boards
Low Production Costs
The cost for producing a magnetic board is minimal. The real costs for putting together an effective exhibit is the time it takes to identify the message the exhibit has to communicate, i.e., consultation costs. Even so, with consultation, graphic artist and prinintg costs, magnetic boards are comparitively inexpensive. They communicate as complicated a message as a computer animation might communicate - for far, far less money.
Professional, But Not Slick

Attorneys are sometimes concerned about looking "too slick" in the courtroom - i.e., giving the impression that their client is a large corporation or developer with money to burn, who is fighting the "little guy," the underdog, with whom jurors often identify. Both plaintiffs and defendants are sensitive to this issue. They do not want a visual presentation which looks too smooth and expensive.

Magnetic boards look professional, but they do not look slick. Because the attorney moves pieces around on the exhibit and is actually involved in the unfolding of the story, the presentation takes on a less formal, more casual and spontaneous tone than otherwise. So the personal, spontaneous nature of the medium reinforces the feeling of a casual, rather than slick, presentation.

More Persuasive

But is a low budget, low tech exhibit as persuasive as the more sophisticated, high tech exhibit? The research suggests that it can be. In his book, Ogilvy on Advertising, David Ogilvy theorized that he suspected there was a negative correlation between the money spent on producing commercials and their power to sell products.

In 1994, the Research Systems corporation in Evansville, Indiana tested that thesis. They found that more effective, sales-producing ads cost less on average than poorer-performing commercials. Their explanation for the finding was that cluttered, overproduced commercials often get in the way of the basic sales message.

This research concerns commercials, not courtroom exhibits; however, if one considers that the objective of an exhibit is to sell a particular idea, then one might think of an exhibit as a kind of commercial. High tech exhibits are more vulnerable to being overproduced than the more simple, low tech exhibit.

So this research is encouraging for attorneys who have to work within a limited budget but who are facing wealthy opponents in the courtroom. It suggests that the more expensive piece of demonstrative evidence is not necessarily going to be the more persuasive one.

High Presenter Visibility

Magnetic boards keep the jurors’ attention focused on the attorney, rather than on a screen or monitor. The attorney becomes the center of the picture; the leader in the courtroom; the one to whom the jurors look for information. In this way, the attorney’s credibility and authority is enhanced.

Just as low tech boards keep the attorney in the center of the picture, so do they also demand that she perform well. There is no buffer, such as a monitor or screen, between the attorney and the jurors. Using low tech exhibits places the attorney directly on the front line, forcing her to be on her toes - spontaneous, articulate and beyond all else, engaging.

Enhanced Presenter Authority

Much of the persuasion that takes place in the courtroom takes place on an unconscious, nonverbal level. Power, for example, is a nonverbal attribute. Someone cannot simply declare that he is powerful. He has to be given power by others, and his power is identified in nonverbal ways. Attorneys who have power get the most eye contact from the jurors; he is the one they "look to;" attorneys with power have command of the physical courtroom - they move around in it, nonverbally interacting with the jurors.

The person who gets to talk the most has the power. So keeping the floor is important in establishing hierarchy in the courtroom. A Visual Trial should help the attorney hold the floor, adding interest to her presentation, offering the jurors visual stimulation. The more time the attorney spends before the jurors - as long as she is interesting to listen to - the larger her presence in the courtroom. Magnetic boards allow attorneys this opportunity - to perform without interruption.

Increased Flexibility

Another advantage of using magnetic boards is that they allow an attorney to determine the pace of the presentation. He has the opportunity to tell his story piece by piece - step by step. His jurors don’t get the information before he is ready to give it to them. By keeping in control of the information flow, he is keeping in control of the courtroom.

Magnetic boards allow the attorney to stop at any time in her presentation and go back, start over, repeat, change direction; in other words, they allow complete flexibility in delivering the information. The presentation is not over when the tape ends or when the program is finished; the presentation is over when the attorney decides its over.

Added Suspense and Drama
As the attorney tells her story, adding to the motherboard piece by piece, the jurors are naturally drawn into the drama. They grow curious, wondering what will happen next, anxious to find out how the story will end. And if the attorney has rehearsed the story and learned how to present the exhibits in the most effective way, her jurors will be hanging on her every word.
Linear Presentation of Information

Magnetic boards simulate the old classroom model, with the teacher going through the chemistry or history lesson, step by step, in linear fashion. Gradually, the whole picture is drawn. Implicit in the medium is the assumption of a cause and effect relationship, upon which logic is based.

In contrast to linear thinking is holistic thinking, identified with the electronic media, whereby information is processed simultaneously. Television is the electronic model. In that respect, magnetic boards are a throw-back to the pre-electronic age, when people learned in a linear fashion. Magnetic boards build one piece at a time; television engulfs the senses simultaneously.

But which medium better enhances learning and critical thinking: The linear or the electronic? To make the justice system work, the court needs jurors who are critical thinkers, ready to learn new things, willing to question their belief systems. The job demands that jurors actively participate in the process, i.e., stay awake, alert and apply their critical powers to the task. Which medium is more effective in stimulating that kind of response?

Increased Juror Involvement

Comparative data between the effectiveness of the linear versus electronic media is scarce. But the research concerning the neurophysiology of television viewing - i.e., the electronic media - is illustrative. Jerry Mander, in his book Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, quotes Dr. Freda Morris, former professor of medical psychology at UCLA: " ... since television images move more quickly than a viewer can react, one has to chase after them with the mind. This leaves no way of breaking the contact and therefore no way to comment upon the information as it passes in. It stops the critical mind."

Mander continues by quoting from a 1975 Australian National University study where the researchers concluded that, "while television appears to have the potential to provide useful information to viewers - and is celebrated for its educational function - the technology of television and the inherent nature of the viewing experience actually inhibit learning as we usually think of it. Very little cognitive, recallable, analyzable, thought-based learning takes place while watching TV."

The reference point is not the content of the program, but rather the medium through which the content is presented. And the research from Mander’s book suggests than when jurors get information through a monitor, the technology of the medium itself thwarts active involvement and critical analysis. So when jurors view videos, computer animations, simulations, and interactive video presentations on the television screen, they may not be processing that information; "The information goes in, but it cannot be easily recalled or thought about," according to the Australian study.

So the question is raised: How significant to the understanding of a case, and ultimately, to the verdict, is the medium which is used to introduce the information? Does the electronic media encourage jurors to think critically and activate logic in their thought processes, or does it dull their critical senses and analytical processes, as Mander suggests.

More research is needed concerning the impact of the electronic media in the courtroom on jurors’ perceptions, thinking processes or ability to learn. Maybe the electronic media is more adapt at eliciting emotional responses while the linear media is more adapt at eliciting thinking responses. Maybe older jurors learn better from the linear models while younger jurors learn better from the electronic models. Many interesting questions remain as yet unanswered.

One thing can be said for certain, however. This country’s system of justice is based on linear thinking, i.e., logically progressing from the simple to the complex, from evaluating individual cases to formulating society’s laws. Judges and lawyers are trained this way; the courtroom rituals demand that kind of intellectual discipline. Even jurors are expected to perform according to the linear model. The questions jurors have to answer on the jury verdict form are linearly constructed. They demand that jurors thoughtfully move from one premise to another, building a logical argument to a logical conclusion and hopefully, a right decision.

Low tech exhibits emulate that process. Delivering information in a linear way - as old-fashioned as that might seem - perhaps enhances jurors’ critical thinking and can be of value in the helping them meet the tasks at hand.


Just because an exhibit is low tech and low budget does not mean it is less persuasive than a more technologically sophisticated exhibit.

One medium of preference are magnetic boards. They are relatively inexpensive to produce; they are professional, but not "slick;" they put the attorney in the center of the picture; they allow the attorney flexibility in pace and delivery; and they create suspense and drama around the attorney’s presentation.

For those who struggle within the constraints of a limited budget to represent clients in as effective way as possible in the courtroom, low tech is not only an alternative to high tech, but can be a preferable alternative.

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