Five Ways Attorneys Can Quickly Mobilize Their Graphics Teams
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” –Abraham Lincoln
The scenario: As counsel, you have been working on a legal case for years, but you never really expected the matter to go to trial. Perhaps settlement talks resulted in your client becoming disillusioned that a meeting of the minds could be achieved. Maybe the talks inspired your client with newfound confidence that he could succeed at trial. Suddenly his day in court is looming, and you find yourself under pressure to assemble a support team to prepare the trial graphics and other visual displays. You round up an experienced graphics squad, but with the clock ticking, how do you quickly mobilize this team into action?
On more occasions than I care to count, I have been under fire to assemble and prepare the team that will create your trial graphics. Over time, I devised some tried and true ways that can enable attorneys to ready their support team to prepare trial graphics quickly and effectively. I hope the tips that I offer will help you to “sharpen your axe” so that you can be best prepared to win at trial.
Tip #1: Organize your team.
It sounds so obvious and simple, but ensuring the team is well-organized is a crucial feat. After you have determined the key points of your courtroom presentation that will lend themselves to graphic portrayal, communicate to each member of the team the particular role he or she will fulfill in creating those graphics. Clearly delineating responsibilities will ensure that no time is wasted through duplicated work efforts.
Tip #2: Involve the decision makers early on in the graphics process.
Graphic displays will most likely need to be approved by several people on the legal team before they can be shown to the court. You can eliminate last-minute revamps of visual displays by involving these decision makers early on in the conception stage and often throughout the production process. Keeping decision makers abreast of the process can save time, money, and headaches.
I learned this rule the hard way. Once, I had an experience in which the decision maker was not directly involved in the graphic production process until the eve of the trial. She summarily determined that we had produced graphics that she never wanted and would not use. Needless to say, it was a horrible experience. The production team members found themselves both demoralized about time wasted and frantic over the menacing deadline.
I vowed never to let an end-game nix happen again, and neither should it happen to you. While it is entirely acceptable to assign a more junior person to the task of day-to-day direction and content supervision, it is critical to ensure straightaway that the planned visuals reconcile with the ultimate user’s preference and strategy. Attorneys use visuals in different ways, so I find it helpful to ask the end-user at the onset about how they have used graphics in the past, and what they did and did not like about those visuals.
Tip #3: The Iterative process works best.
While your instinct might be to focus on verbal legal arguments first, and to leave the design for the end, it’s best to develop your visuals at the same time. Graphics are not icing! They are very persuasive language in their own right, and the process of developing them helps to refine your strategy and verbal arguments. And while it may seem counterintuitive, it’s smart to divulge unpolished and incomplete information with the graphics support team. Sharing your brainstorms saves time, because while you are fine-tuning the underlying content or generating the accurate data for a chart or graph, the graphics team can start on creating rough concept sketches. This collaborative process will ensure the aesthetics ultimately convey the vision you conceptualize.
Tip #4: Hash out the nitty-gritty.
Those lay-out details that seem mundane, must be decided upon early so that all the design work produced will be uniform from the get go. Details such as: Should titles be centered, or left-justified? What size borders should surround the documents? Is there a preference for the lighter blue color over the darker blue? Don’t spend hours lamenting over these details. Collaboratively decide upon them early and quickly, then move on.
Tip #5: Devise graphics of your key points, then reuse them through various stages of the trial.
Many attorneys plan their demonstrative exhibits in accordance with the timeline of the actual trial. They plan each phase of the trial in isolation, beginning by planning graphics for the opening, and ending finally with displays for closing arguments. “I just need to get through opening,” is a phrase I hear often. It’s best, however, to plan graphics by thinking in terms of case themes, rather than in terms of the linear progression of the trial.
If you collaborate with your trial consultant to identify the various themes within your case, it will be evident that many graphics can be recycled for use at several stages during the trial. Of course, they may need minor adjustments. For instance, an opening graphic should contain many of the key points you will make during closing, but you may wish to make these points more detailed for your final argument.
Take a deep breath, follow these tips, and you and your team will be ready for trial day! Good luck.
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Appeared in The Focal Point Press
October 30, 2017