In the Courtroom and at the Office
by Julie Stauffer
Like many lawyers, the thought of incorporating computer presentations into your practice probably leaves you cold and sweaty. After all, you’re a legal professional, not a computer expert, an A/V technician, or a graphic designer.
But across Canada, a number of forward-thinking lawyers have already taken the plunge and discovered that a well-planned presentation, using PowerPoint or special trial presentation software, can enhance courtroom persuasiveness, communication with clients, and marketing efforts.
The technology isn’t even that difficult to master – if you can operate e-mail and word processing software, computer presentations are within your grasp. Given the ease of use, low cost and reliability of modern presentation technology, traditional excuses simply don’t apply anymore. Lawyers that stick to old-school thinking and that adhere to exaggerated criticisms of technology risk being left in the dust. Here’s the scoop on why you need make the leap to computer presentations, what equipment you’ll need to get going, and how to make the most of it.
Advantages in the Courtroom
Quite simply, computer presentations are the most effective way to communicate with juries who have grown up with television. Research has shown that 72 hours after hearing information, a jury remembers only 10 per cent of it. If you present the information visually, a jury remembers 20 per cent. But if you combine oral and visual presentations, the recall rate can shoot up to 65 per cent.
If you’re trying to explain how a medical procedure went wrong, compare two documents side-by-side, or outline a complex sequence of events, an image will tell the story far better than words can. A few bullet points of text can drive home your opening or closing arguments or summarize key testimonial, while an animation can be a powerful way to recreate an accident scene.
Further, when you present evidence electronically, both judge and jury can see it clearly and quickly. It eliminates the need to wait while everyone fumbles to find the correct page in a hefty binder or takes their turn examining an exhibit. And while some judges insist on traditional methods, many are realizing that it’s easier, faster, and more efficient to view a CD’s worth of documents rather than going through stacks of paper.
At least one B.C. insurance litigator is convinced. Michael Maryn of Maryn & Associates says he was able to convincingly show the impact of a client’s injury with a PowerPoint presentation. “Our job as lawyers is to assist jurors in understanding the issues,” he explains. Based on his experience, Maryn believes that visual presentations are much more effective than oral arguments alone.
Advantages at the Office
Computer presentations can also expand your ability to drive home your message at the office, whether it be through marketing your practice or communicating with clients. Milton Zwicker of Zwicker, Evans & Lewis in Barrie, Ontario specializes in condo law and estate planning. He is a passionate advocate of using computer-generated flowcharts that he creates with Inspiration (www.inspiration.com) to explain wills, contracts and other complex legal documents to his clients. In every case, he finds that diagrams convey meaning far better than words.
Consider that over half of malpractice claims result from the client failing to understand what was communicated, or the lawyer failing to communicate something in the first place, and you’ve got a compelling reason to start thinking visually.
In terms of marketing, an informative PowerPoint presentation can be an excellent way to impress current or potential clients. Zwicker, for example, often gives seminars on condominium law to boards of directors and condo owners. At Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP in Winnipeg, PowerPoint presentations are used in meetings with clients, group meetings within the firm, and marketing talks to industry groups.
10 Tips for Delivering Effective Computer Presentations
- Practice makes perfect! It may sound obvious, but presenters too often forget that a slick-looking presentation will fall on deaf ears if the delivery lacks confidence or is unrehearsed.
- Be professional – another no-brainer that’s often overlooked. Ensure all slides are organized, clear and consistent. If you’re not comfortable with the technology, get trained or get somebody else to handle the highly technical aspects of the presentation.
- If possible, scope out the room ahead of time. Older courtrooms may not have enough electrical outlets, and it may be difficult to position a screen so that everyone can see it.
- Use a projector and a screen. It will yield a clearer picture than simply projecting onto a white wall. If possible, test visibility in advance.
- Speak to your audience, not to the screen or the computer. Take quick glances at your presentation to ensure everything is working, but keep the focus on your audience.
- Visual clarity is key. Avoiding distracting colors and cluttered backgrounds. Simple, warm colors and readability are far more persuasive.
- Always strive for clear, concise and readable text, and avoid placing too much text on a slide. Limit yourself to six words on a line and six lines on a slide.
- Don’t go overboard on images and audio/video. Make the most of the technology, but don’t use graphics, sounds and video for the sake of doing so. Ensure that all such additions are essential to the effective delivery of the presentation.
- Remember that content is still king. Don’t spend all your efforts focusing purely on the technology. A glitzy computer presentation can’t make up for poor messaging, communication and execution.
- Finish your presentation with a conclusion slide that encapsulates your main points. A well-placed quote can also have staying power in the minds of your audience.
Respecting Murphy’s Law: Six Technology Tips
Technology is guaranteed to fail at the most inopportune time, so it’s wise to be prepared for all the things that can go wrong:
- Before making courtroom presentations, be sure the judge will permit it, and don’t forget to advise opposing counsel of your plans.
- Find out what equipment the court can supply. Be prepared to bring your own screen and projector if necessary.
- Arrive early to set up the equipment and make sure it all works. Ensure that the audience will have a clear view of the presentation and that any sound components will be audible.
- Come equipped with extension cords, extra projector bulbs, and spare batteries for your remote.
- Disable the power management feature on your computer—that little energy-saving program that turns off the screen or even turns off the computer if the keyboard hasn’t been used for a certain period of time. Failure to do so may result in a blank screen halfway through your presentation.
- Be prepared for equipment failures or last-minute objections from opposing counsel – have an “unplugged” presentation ready to deliver if necessary.
After you’ve bought into the power of computer presentations and made a commitment to bring the necessary technology into your practice, you’ll need to get the right equipment for your needs. The following link is to the full article and offers a breakdown of the hardware and software that’s available to help you get up and running with additional tips on mastering the technology: www.cba.org/cba/PracticeLink/TAYP.
Julie Stauffer is a freelance writer based in Guelph, Ontario.
This article was published in the December 2005 issue of BarTalk. © 2005 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.