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Using Multimedia in Legal Proceedings

Persuasion Process

Through constant human interaction, we are involved in the process of persuasion. From glitzy ads to one-on-one communication, we are constantly trying to convince someone of our point of view. Our success or failure is dependent on our ability to persuade others as to our point of view. Multimedia aids help us persuade and studies support this conclusion. The issue is how can we best present case information to persuade the trier of fact as to our client’s position.

A word of caution. The most important part of your presentation is you. How one looks, sounds, and presents is still the critical factor in the persuasion credibility process.

SEEING THE FACTS: Tapping the Power Of Seeing As Well As Hearing,
ABA Journal, December, 1992, James W. McElhaney,

The actual photographs would come a little later. First was a verbal snapshot of the crash that literally took the jury to the scene:

"Ladies and gentlemen, go back in time to the 14th of December, 1984. If you had been standing by the side of Highway 487 just at noon--about thirteen miles east of Carthage, Miss.--you would have seen Linda Jackson in her 1984 GMC Jimmy 4X4, taking Amanda--her six-week-old baby girl--to the doctor for her first checkup after she was born.

"Linda and Amanda had dropped off Mr. Jackson at work, and started to go on to the doctor's office just before they passed where you're standing. If you look quickly, you can see Amanda in her new safety car seat--the backwards- facing kind that has been federally approved. Then right after they pass where you are--as they go around a gentle curve at about 50 to 55 miles per hour—you hear a bang--almost as if they hit another car. Only there's no other traffic, and there's nothing in the road they could hit. So you look at the back of the car as it is going away from you and you see the left rear wheel strangely folded underneath the car, scraping the asphalt as it's being dragged along. The car starts to fishtail back and forth on its one rear wheel. Then it swerves and starts to flip over and over. One, two, three, four--five times. You see Momma--Linda--thrown from the car and land at the side of the road, crumpled in an odd, awkward angle, her left leg broken into the shape of a 'Z.'

"You run down the road to check on Amanda, to get her out of the car if you can. The GMC Jimmy 4X4 is on its back, its three remaining wheels spinning in the air. When you look inside, there is Amanda, still strapped in her seat—her head jammed between the back of her safety seat and the bottom of the dashboard. What you see dripping on her face is acid coming from the upside-down battery."

That "picture" is based on the opening statement by Tommy Rayburn from Oxford, Miss., in a products liability case against General Motors. It is one of a series of remarkably vivid verbal snapshots that were designed to show exactly what happened to Linda and Amanda Jackson.

It is important that we understand the persuasion process and incorporate multimedia solutions into our presentation. The dynamics of the persuasion process are generally broken down into five parts:

  1. Attention;
  2. Comprehension;
  3. Agreement;
  4. Retention;
  5. Action.

In order to persuade, you have to gain the person’s attention, ensure they understand the message, gain their agreement, and then lengthen their retention period for them to take action.

1. Attention - The use of multimedia and paperless presentation significantly supports the attention aspect of the persuasion process.

Factfinders want you to grab their attention and provide guidance on how the case should be decided. If you want the jury to think of you as the guide they should follow, and if you want them to believe what your witnesses have to say, you have to keep their attention. This is done by the presentation that you and your witnesses make, assisted by the use of multimedia in the legal proceeding.

Seeing, hearing and viewing visual stimuli captures the audience’s attention. A child’s attention span is 6 seconds, while an adult’s attention span is 8 seconds. It is important to lengthen the time you have their attention. Though you sometimes can bring them back quickly from their inattentive time, they may have missed important points you were trying to convey during the trial. Ensure that the various trial presentation techniques you use keeps the jurors’ attention.


One of the constants of JURY RESEARCH in the antitrust area is the feeling reported by most jurors that they were overwhelmed by the economic, industrial, and policy issues presented to them. A juror who was interviewed after sitting on an antitrust case put it this way: "I felt like I just got off the plane in Tokyo. Everything looked and sounded Japanese. I was totally lost."

Jurors, like all of us, have psychological constraints on the amount of information that can be absorbed. JURY RESEARCH shows that when confronted with new, technical information that is outside of their experience and training, jurors simplify their decision-making by ignoring or distorting the importance of the information. Jurors focus on what is salient to them, not necessarily what may be legally relevant.

This often leads jurors to dismiss evidence that the trial team views as critical and to place great weight on issues that the trial team has dismissed as irrelevant. A good example is the issue of relevant market. Lawyers may spend a lot of time on defining the relevant market and proving their definition is the correct one. From the juror's perspective, the issue of relevant market remains an intangible abstraction that is ignored. Jurors are also looking for patterns among the discrete events they hear about. They use their life experiences, attitudes, beliefs, and values to identify patterns in a complex case. They latch onto a few key ideas that are consistent with their predisposition and in turn create a psychological story based on these key ideas. In developing their psychological stories, jurors infer motivations for all parties, even if none are explicitly stated. The perceived motivations of the parties will then partially determine the information that will be salient. - Barbara S. Swain and Dan R. Gallipeau, ABA Journal, 1994.

2. Comprehension - The trier of fact must understand in a simple but effective manner the themes of your case. In studies, the impact of presentation visuals showed a minimum of 10% increase in the attention, comprehension, agreement, and retention for the audience of the points that are supported with multimedia visuals. The startling statistic was that the audiences were 43% were more inclined to take ACTION based on the visual presentation as opposed to no visual support. Multimedia Presentations, Robert Lindstom.

In the September 28, 1992, issue of PC Week, an article entitled THE VERDICT IS IN: PC GRAPHICS WINS THE CASE, explained the success of a Houston attorney in integrating graphics in his trial to persuade the jury of his client's position. The article read as follows:

“To defend a client accused of withholding critical documents from the State of Texas, a Houston attorney recently passed up the standard orations and dry paperwork in favor of PC graphics to prove his case. In 10 minutes the lawyer constructed a bar chart that compared the heights of the state capital dome, the University of Texas tower and a stack of papers representing all the documents his client had turned over to the state.

"The documents were twice as high," said William Dyer, a partner and commercial litigation lawyer for Thompson and Knight. It was simple and conveyed the message very effectively. With his success in that particular trial and in many others, Dyer has joined the emerging category of attorneys who have discovered that the easiest way to present cases is via PC software, particularly graphics programs that can crunch numbers and concepts into more effective visual aids such as bar charts and time lines.

Every picture tells a story . . . I think it's taken a lot longer to integrate computers into the [legal] field. Many lawyers thought PC's were relegated to Lexis and Nexis or case searches. For three years now, Dyer has approached the bench with . . .presentation graphics software - most recently with its windows version. “It’s basically a tool to teach and simplify concepts and facts in complicated litigation, either for the judge or the jury," Dyer explained.

In another case, one of Dyer's clients’s had a reorganization effort under way in Chapter 11, but it was jeopardized by a $200 million back-pay claim by striking union workers. Dyer's job: to whittle the claim down to size that would permit his client to emerge from bankruptcy and not close down business.

Until minutes before the trial, the numbers were being revised by one of his witnesses - a senior partner from a Big Six accounting firm. When they were finally complete, Dyer plugged the new numbers into his laptop and popped three-dimensional charts onto a courtroom screen, while his witness took the stand to explain his conclusions.

"The real-time display at least doubled the effectiveness of the witness testimony," Dyer said." That and other charts apparently had some impact on the case: The judge eventually reduced the back-pay claim from more than $200 million to a little more than $31 million," Dyer said. Would he have won this and other trials without . . . graphics? "It's impossible to say," Dyer said. "But it is fair to say that I've been able to communicate more effectively using charts and graphs." Dyer believes computers are an underutilized asset in today's courtrooms, a fact that is starting to change as technology begins to impact all areas of modern business life, according to industry observers.”

3. Agreement - The trier of fact reacts to the presentation of your case in a favorable or unfavorable method. It is difficult to have a factfinder agree with your position if they are predisposed to the opposing side’s position. The key is for the audience to favorably react to the presentation of your case and the themes that you present. Multimedia can support you in your quest to present your themes in an understandable, favorable manner so that the factfinder will agree with your position. As Dale Carnegie said, “The best argument is that which seems merely an explanation.” Explanations can be enhanced using multimedia.

4. Retention -We want the trier of fact to remember the points we make for a reasonable period of time. With the myriad of witnesses, delays in the trial, days of testimony, and numerous exhibits, it is imperative that the judge or jury remember our main points to apply to their decision. The method of presentation has a significant impact as to the retention period of information.

Studies have consistently shown that people retain information longer with both a visual and verbal presentation.

  Retention After 3 hours After 72 hours
Telling (verbal)
Showing (visual)
Telling and Showing

See Presier, Demonstrative Evidence in Criminal cases, 4 Trial Dipl. J, 31(1980); Weiss-McGrath Report by McGraw-Hill, M. Dombroff,

Dombroff on Demonstrative Evidence, 4, Wiley, 1983.

Seeing something also makes it more memorable. According to Kenneth L. Higbee, in “Your Memory” (2nd ed. Prentice Hall, 1988) page 38, “Picture memory exceeds word memory when measured by recall as well as by recognition.” “Higbee tells of a study in which the subjects were shown 2,560 different pictures over several days. Later they were shown 280 pairs of pictures. One of each pair they had seen before, the other they had not. On the average, the group correctly identified 90 percent of the pictures they had seen before.”

Sarnoff A. Mednick, Howard R. Pollio and Elizabeth F. Loftus tell about how graphic increases retention in "Learning" (2d ed. 1973) pages 140-141. "Gordon Bower told subjects to study sentences like Horse eats banana and Cow kicks ball. Some subjects were told to visualize the scene described, while others were told simply to read the sentences. The results for one experiment showed that when the subjects imagined the scene they scored 62 percent correct recall; subjects who merely read the sentences averaged 42 percent correct recall."

5. Action - All four of the above components must be addressed to motivate the trier of fact to take action. To take action, the message must be relevant to the trier of fact. The presentation must be from a trier of fact’s point of view. When an audience is actively involved and knowledgeable about the subject, then a number of tools are available to the presenter.

Whether it is fear holding the trier of fact accountable, or other persuasive techniques, multimedia can assist in the persuasion process. Multimedia aids increase your ability to grab the attention of a jury, increase their comprehension, and move them toward agreement with increased retention. Finally, they are more inclined to take action in your client’s favor.


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