Book Review of Show the Story by Soula Jones in Trial News (2012)
Veteran Seattle trial attorney William S. Baily and his brother Robert W. Bailey, a California-based trial consultant, have produced Show the Story, an indispensable guide to visual presentation during trial. They teach attorneys how to think in pictures and diagrams—as well as words—in order to present their case in the most compelling manner possible. To do so, the Baileys mine their own extensive trial experience, but they also turn to other experts for added insights: plaintiff and defense attorneys, judges, law professors, graphic-production artists, and consultants. The result is a compendium of advice on what works visually in a trial setting and, just as importantly, what does not.
The Baileys begin with the scientific basis for why visuals are a must. Various researchers have shown that as much as 80 percent of all learning takes place through the eyes, and that visuals allow an audience to decode and store information more effectively. More specifically, a groundbreaking study at the University of Minnesota found that only 10 percent of information delivered verbally is remembered after three days—but this figure jumps to 60 percent if both visual and verbal prompts are used.
Just as importantly, most of today’s jurors expect attorneys to show them a story, in addition to telling it. We live in the Internet age, where attention spans are even shorter: 75 percent of what we learn is received visually—either through writing, photos or graphics.
Despite the heavy impact of visual content, many attorneys tend to think of visuals as a last-minute additive and have their assistants whip up some PowerPoints just before the trial begins. But the Baileys strongly caution against this approach. They argue that key visual content, and the method of presentation, should be decided early on, when the attorneys first develop their theory of the case. That is the only way, the Baileys point out, that visual presentations can be true to the facts and highly effective, survive the inadmissibility arguments by opposing counsel, and end up in the courtroom convincing jurors.
To get attorneys to think visually, the authors liken the process of conducting a trial to that of directing a movie (Robert Bailey began his career in the film industry). And they use actual cases that have gone to trial to show how their ideas can be applied. Since William Bailey is a personal injury lawyer, most of his case studies center on accidents and medical negligence. However, the same approach can be applied to any kind of litigation.
In a step-by-step process, the Baileys show readers how to: introduce the parties visually; present the theme; set up the conflict; show the standards; identify the character choices and actions; re-create climactic moments; and finally, see the big picture. It is suggested, for example, that an attorney select a single image to represent the opposing party throughout the trial, because this allows for the anchoring of key facts to the image and helps jurors link their thoughts and feelings to that same image as the trial progresses.
The end result of the "show-the-story" process is that it can reduce the myriad facts in a case into a coherent, visually oriented story that will stick in jurors’ minds.
The Baileys then address all aspects of visual-content creation: the different types of visuals (photos vs. graphic illustrations vs. video or graphic animations, etc.), and examples of what works best when; how to work closely with a graphic artist, often with input from an expert, and stay within the realm of attorney work product; how to get the visuals admitted at trial; and even formats for getting the visual exhibits to the jury during deliberation.
Importantly, the Baileys point out that elaborate and costly visual productions are not necessarily better; it depends on the type of case and the facts. Actually, one of the book’s main suggestions is to mix it up; juries get quickly bored with watching computer animations, no matter how well done. By presenting a mix of low- and high-tech visuals, ranging from physical objects to computer graphics, attorneys can increase juror retention levels, appeal to the different types of learners sitting in the jury box, and reduce trial costs.
Even for attorneys who will continue to use only PowerPoint at trial, the book is useful. The 19 rules of visual communication, for example, are something that every paralegal, associate and partner should be aware of, including: "Don’t talk over a PowerPoint slide that has words on it, because it will divide attention and reduce learning."
Despite all their benefits, however, visuals created for trial can be a double-edged sword, and the Baileys explore this fully. A problematic visual rendering is likely to get challenged and not make it to trial at all, resulting in a waste of time and money. Or the visual might make it to trial only to get discredited by opposing counsel, putting the presenting attorney at an insurmountable disadvantage. Therefore, the Baileys devote an entire section of the book to establishing the proper foundation for visual presentations and getting them admitted at trial, including the different types of evidence and the challenges each is likely to face.
One of the most insightful parts of the book is a Q&A with the Hon. Marsha Pechman, of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, who gives a judge’s perspective on the effective use of visuals.
Bottom line: this book will help attorneys think in pictures, as well as words. The result is likely to be better outcomes for attorneys and their clients, as well as a better experience for the jurors.
—Soula Jones is paralegal and office administrator at HKM Employment Attorneys PLLC.
Reprinted with permission of Trial News (2012).