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
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
|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,
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
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
attorneys 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.
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 dont 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
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 Manders 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
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 countrys system of justice is based on linear thinking,
i.e., logically progressing from the simple to the complex, from
evaluating individual cases to formulating societys 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 attorneys 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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