Are jurors ignoring your documents?

It was a paper-intensive trial, one of those cases where the phrase “Plaintiff’s Exhibit #2,598,124” doesn’t seem to shock anyone.  Because the stakes were high, it was a well-financed operation, and both parties brought a lot of technology with them.

One of the gizmos the plaintiffs brought with them to help present their evidence was a computer projector and a visual display program like Sanction or Trial Director. If you try document-intensive cases, you know the importance of using these programs to help jurors focus on the important elements of your evidence.  Unfortunately, despite all the benefits these programs offer, if you don’t use them correctly, they’ll actually detract from the persuasiveness of your case.  As I was watching the plaintiff’s attorney present his evidence, I saw a few mistakes that negatively impacted his case.  Here are the mistakes I observed and tips to help improve your presentation the next time you’re exhibiting documentary evidence:

Contract1.  Don’t expect jurors to read the entire page when it’s displayed on a computer screen. This case was tried in our courthouse’s ceremonial courtroom.  The ceremonial courtroom uses 42″ plasma screens to display images to the gallery, and smaller LCD displays to present images to the jurors.  It’s a nice system, but if you don’t zoom in to particular parts of the page, it’s impossible to read an entire page of a document.  When you try to view the entire page on those monitors, it looks like this image to the right.  Yes, you can see it, but you can’t actually read it.  Even with a hi-def screen, it’s impossible to focus on the entire page.  The only time you should show the jury the entire page of a document is when you’re trying to give the jurors an overview of the document they’re about to see.  Let them see what the document looks like, but don’t expect them to be able to read it.

Contract highlightedThe solution?  Zoom in.  Focus on one part of the document, and give your jurors a chance to digest that portion before moving on to the next section.  Probably a good recommendation would be to show the jurors just one paragraph at a time.  (A fiction writer’s paragraph — not a lawyer’s paragraph that goes on for 40 lines.)  Look at this example to the right.  It’s not enough to just highlight the important portion — you need to blow it up if you want the jurors to see it.  By blowing up the paragraph you want them to focus on, they can actually read the portion that matters to you.  Make it easy for your jury to absorb the information, and they’ll be more likely to remember it.

2.  Don’t compete with your visual aids. Visual images are usually far more compelling than aural testimony, so your jurors’ attention is usually going to be drawn towards your TV screen, not towards you or your witness.  When you’re no longer referring to the on-screen document and you want the jury to focus on your witness, switch your display screen to a blank screen so the jurors aren’t distracted.  (If you have the option, switch to a black screen rather than white, because the white screen is harsher on the eyes.)

3.  Don’t shine bright lights in your jurors’ eyes. Turn off any distracting lights.  The lawyer wasn’t using an overhead image viewer to display any images, since all of his documents had been scanned into Sanction. But for some reason, he’d turned the overhead projector on, so the projector light was shining brightly.  Every time he moved between the jurors and the bright light, they would go from darkness to bright lights shining in their eyes.  (Ouch!)  That can be distracting.  Be mindful of the projector lights and overhead display lights, so you don’t subject your jurors to a similar experience.

4.  Don’t publish private information. This last tip won’t necessarily make your presentations better, but it might make your clients (or their clients) happier.  As I mentioned earlier, this was a document intensive trial.  The plaintiff’s lawyer was publishing LOTS of documents to the jury using the projection monitors.  That meant that everyone in the courtroom could see the information.  Some of the documents he published contained private information that wasn’t essential to the case.  For example, one of his documents published the names, addresses, dates of birth, and social security numbers for 5 different individuals who weren’t involved in the case.  Hopefully, there wasn’t an identity thief in the courtroom that day, because that’s all the information he’d need to destroy their lives.  Unless it’s essential to your case, consider blacking out social security numbers and other private information from your documents before publishing them to the jury.  (Just make sure you clear it with opposing counsel in advance, and also explain to the jury why the information is blacked out.)

Your ability to persuasively present documentary evidence is essential to the success of your case.  Follow these quick and simple tips, and you’ll make it easy for jurors to focus on your documents and remember the essential details of your case.

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