Trial and jury expert Tara Trask’s entire business is built around helping her clients provide the best presentation possible to resolve their case. She has worked in the trial consulting business for over 17 years and knows how to manage high-stakes complex litigation all the way from selecting the right trial counsel and venue for a case, to finding the right jurors, to managing the tools available to get the results a lawyer wants in a case. And she certainly knows the value of making a good impression on a jury.
“Of course technology is important in the courtroom. If there’s one thing that jurors know how to do it’s watch TV,” she says.
Trask, who will chair the 30th Annual ASTC Conference in Seattle in June 2011, offers the following tips to attorneys on using technology to their advantage in the courtroom:
1. Don’t just tell juries the story; show them.
“It’s been a very long time since I’ve had a lawyer ask me whether using computer monitors and PowerPoint was too slick. Slick is not what you need to be concerned about. Jurors don’t understand how much this stuff costs. They don’t know what it costs to make graphics, or to have a trial technician onsite, or to load all the documents into Trial Director.
“What they do know is that if you’re digging around in a box, trying to find some document you want to put up, you’re taking up their time.
“Jurors need to be able to see what you’re talking about; they like pictures with their stories.”
2. Enlist Graphic Design Professionals.
“Certainly documents and things like that are good. Also, consider using creative graphics. And when I say creative graphics, I don’t mean bullet points on a PowerPoint. What I mean is, if you’re trying to convey an abstract concept that’s challenging, go get an experienced graphic consultant who does litigation work and considers himself or herself a trial consultant — a visual storyteller — to help you make the demonstratives that you need.
“Very often in trial, you’ll only use a handful of the demonstratives I’m describing. But sometimes they can be outcome determinative, in terms of whether or not the jury’s going to understand the difficult and abstract information you’re trying to convey.”
3. Mix It Up.
“I think using different modalities in the courtroom is very important. Even if you can get up there and write on a flip chart, that’s useful. Because it gets you closer to the jury and it is motion in the courtroom, which helps to keep them interested.
“Obviously documents and graphics on the screen, and using Trial Director to zoom in and highlight, is very useful. Very often boards are useful. If you’ve got a timeline or some other piece of demonstrative information that you want to put in front of the jury just leave it up — lean it against your table — so the jurors always have it there to refer to.
“Plus, using all those different modalities allows the jurors to sort of stay interested, stay awake, and keep tracking your case.”
4. Leave A/V To the Pros.
“You’ve got to have an experienced trial technician in the courtroom running all of this technology. Not only can they help your presentation, they can make friends with the court staff. They learn all kinds of interesting things that you need to know. They often make friends with the bailiff.
“Clearly you want to have somebody who can get things up on the screen quickly and can follow your lead. That can often times be a very difficult person to find.”
5. Don’t Make Technology An Intrusion.
“It’s also important that technology not be intrusive. It’s meant to be helpful. It’s meant to be there to aid you.
“Technology itself, if you have the right person managing everything, will not be intrusive. But there’s one thing I would warn against, and that’s those darn bullet points on a PowerPoint. There’s just nothing more distracting. All it’s doing is helping the lawyer keep his place in what he or she is trying to say. And it really provides no benefit to the jurors.
“Reading what you’re saying is not helpful. What jurors truly need are demonstratives, as in: look at this document; look where this person signed it; look at this creative graphic that shows the flow of this information. Those are the things you want to put up on the screen.”
Tara Trask & Associates is a full-service litigation strategy, jury research and trial consulting firm. They are a “soup to nuts” firm that helps trial lawyers, as well as their clients, not only prepare for trial but prepare for the resolution of their case. This can begin as early as the selection trial counsel, and continues to venue selection, pretrial research, creation of ideal jury profiles, as well as jury questionnaires and voir dire. They assist with their clients’ technical presentations, manage all the audiovisual components of the trial and later perform post-trial interviews with the jurors. They specialize in high-stakes complex litigation; intellectual property cases where there’s a tremendous amount of money at stake.
“Our specialty is complexity and everything that we do, we do with an eye towards being the absolute best at it,” says Tara.