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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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