Trial Presentations: What Jurors Expect from Both David and Goliath

By Dave Nugent w/ contribution from Sarah Murray, Trialcraft, Inc.

Sumo david_v_goliathWe trial graphics consultants often get the question, “Are we digging a Goliath hole for ourselves here with this presentation?” This question arises when attorneys fear that a sophisticated visual presentation could impress the jury as deep pockets bullying of a smaller party. Fourteen years ago, when I first began preparing courtroom presentations in an era of Elmos and flip charts, this concern may have been somewhat justified. Today, the concern has little merit.

I posed the David and Goliath question to Sarah Murray, a Fulbright scholar social/cultural anthropologist and founder, president and senior consultant at Trial Craft, Inc. I have had the great pleasure to work with Sarah on cases from small contract disputes to antitrust matters with international scope.

From Sarah’s years of esteemed quantitative and qualitative jury research, she has evolved a conviction that the David & Goliath fear is a fading myth, and contrary to the metrics of fact. As Sarah puts it:

“It’s 2014, and it’s hard to walk down the street in San Francisco without having someone bump into you because their eyes are glued to their iPhone. Students in my stepson’s high school no longer submit written reports in most classes; they deliver PowerPoint presentations. Airports, bars, hotel lobbies, waiting rooms in hospitals and doctor’s offices, sport LCD screens that are on all the time, 24/7. Most new cars come with TV screens built in.

Yet, still, I hear business clients say, ‘We don’t want to roll into town with fancy graphics and seem like the big, fat company against the little guy! We know that opposing counsel is going to use just flip charts and markers. We don’t want jurors to see us as the deep pockets with money to burn on things like graphics!’

LaptopLadyJusticeThis kind of comment reflects lawyers’ anxieties and biases—not the reality of what jurors expect or how they respond to sophisticated visual presentations in today’s courtroom. In my 15 years as a trial and jury consultant, I’ve worked on hundreds of mock trials and focus groups and dozens of trials. Time and time again, I’ve seen well-crafted graphics make the difference in a mock trial or trial outcome. I’ve talked to thousands of mock and real jurors. Again and again, I’ve heard jurors say things like this: ‘Well, the other side just didn’t seem as prepared. They didn’t have any good graphics; the lawyer was just shuffling around with a lot of papers and putting documents up. It was really boring and hard to follow.’”

Sarah’s research and experience is reinforced by two recent studies on the effects of visual presentations in a legal setting. Both the Park & Feigenson study “Effects of a Visual Technology on Mock Juror Decision Making” and the Persuasion Strategies Visual Persuasion Study found that opening argument visuals improved persuasion, jury recall and, most significant to this discussion, juror perception of the presenting attorney as being better prepared.

Most surprising to the researchers and of great consequence to potential courtroom success, the Park & Feigenson study revealed a juror perception of the media-supported attorney as being “more competent” and “more credible”.

Jurors now expect visual representation. Sarah Murray explains further,

“Jurors today—old and young—expect sophisticated visuals in the courtroom because they consume them every day in the rest of their lives—on TV news, on the Web, in business meetings and conferences and conventions, on YouTube and in the movies. If only one party has good graphics, they don’t judge that party to be wealthier and worthy of punishing; they judge that party to be better prepared, more respectful of jurors’ time than the other side.

The average juror has no idea what trial graphics cost—and rarely do they speculate about it. (They spend a lot of time, however, speculating about how much the attorneys are getting paid. If trial attorneys who are worried about paying for graphics really believe their fears, they should stay home from court and send a paralegal in their stead).”

media-exposureToday we have a new, visually literate and even media-demanding jury. Researchers at Ball State University’s Center for Media Design reported in 2009 that adults in the US are exposed to media screens of one kind or another on average about 8.5 hours per day! According to a 1998 Mind Tools report, a significant 65% of all people are visual learners.

In conclusion, Sarah counsels,

“Jurors are thirsty for good information to help them make what are typically difficult and complex decisions. Good graphics, like good trial themes and arguments, are like water. Thirsty jurors drink them and feel quenched. Unless given an explicit reason to do so, they do not attend to the source of the water or the cost of the drink.”

And for the attorney, whoever offers the more accessible and helpful presentation gains the advantage of being perceived as the more “credible” side—the juror expects both David and Goliath to come prepared.