Before the invention of Microsoft PowerPoint, people used slides and poster boards to present information and emphasize a point. And in trials, lawyers often use images to present important points, evidence, arguments, or context. While they may look simple, and while a fact-finder may not pay much attention to them, these “chalks” or “demonstratives” often require a lot of strategy and work.

Why should you read this post about demonstratives?

  • You want to see a chart and learn different words that refer to charts.

  • You want to be a lawyer, but you want to also use your flair for design.

  • You’re weird.

Image credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dwelling_floor_area.PNG

Deciding Whether to Use a Demonstrative

Not every hearing or trial requires a demonstrative. So a lawyer needs to determine whether one is appropriate.

To do so, a lawyer may ask whether there is some complicated concept that is easier to visualize than it is to describe orally. This may be a timeline of events or a list of people with their affiliations. While the lawyer can tell listeners what happened and at what time and in what order, it is much easier to see these events on a timeline. And while the lawyer can tell listeners who works for Company A and who works for Company B, it is much easier to see a list of names and companies. This is especially helpful if the lawyer refers to events and names in her argument and the reader can quickly review the significance of the event or person by reading the demonstrative instead of remembering key information stated earlier.

Another prime use of a demonstrative is to emphasize an important piece of evidence. If there is a written confession or a damning quote, showing it to the audience may make it harder to ignore than just describing it. And if there is a photograph that makes it easier for the audience to truly understand the facts, showing it may be easier than describing the scene alone.

But a demonstrative may also be a distraction. People may spend time looking at it instead of listening to the presentation, and demonstratives also cost money and are unwieldy to lug around to and in court. So they are not always a good idea. And it is rarely a good idea to have more than one at a time, so even if one is appropriate, lawyers need to pick when to use one.

Making a Demonstrative

The first step in making a demonstrative is to determine what the viewer is supposed to learn. Ideally, there should just be one simple point. A complicated, messy tableau won’t make an impact.

Once the lawyer decides what she is trying to express, she may draw a first draft.

But, since law and art are different skills, the lawyer may quickly see the need for a professional. At least I have, despite my interest in making my own PowerPoint decks. And so I regularly work with graphic designers to design demonstratives for me, based on my initial drafts. The designer may send versions to me, and then we can go back and forth making edits, but I usually admit right away that the designer did a better job than I could have done.

Professionally made designs not only look nicer, but they come off more polished, which may subtly communicate to the viewer the legitimacy of the point the lawyer is trying to make.

Finally, a demonstrative may be shown on a screen. But if the courtroom does not have screens, or if the lawyer does not have access to the courtroom ahead of time to confirm the ability to use the room’s screens, the lawyer may need to have it printed on poster board and then bring an easel to court. This often requires the demonstrative to be ready at least a day early.

Objections

Lawyers may not need approval when using demonstratives to persuade a judge during an argument over a motion, or during a “bench trial” whose facts are decided by the judge. This is because a judge can decide for herself what material is appropriate or inappropriate.

But during a jury trial, a judge often imposes limits on the demonstratives lawyers can show a jury. Often a lawyer will present a draft to both sides, prompting opposing counsel to make objections. These objections may lead the judge to suggest compromises or changes, causing the lawyer (and the graphic designer) to make a new demonstrative suitable for a jury. This may be a frustrating process if the changes make the demonstrative less useful or persuasive than the original intended version.