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Tips for trial success

|Written By Gail J. Cohen

SAN FRANCISCO — While much fewer Canadian than American trials end up in front of a jury, the tips offered during the “Technology, psychology, and persuasion in the courtroom” panel at the American Bar Association meeting are still pretty handy.

The panel of mostly psychologists at the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco had some great points, particularly on opening remarks and the use of animations and graphics.

Art Patterson, senior vice president of Decision Quest, has been a psychologist for 35 years and did his first jury consultation in 1982. His advice on what to focus on during the opening was gleaned from years of post-trial interviews with jurors. Much of it likely stands for judge-only trials as well, on both the civil and criminal side.

His key points on how to be persuasive in your opening arguments:

•    Tell an emotionally compelling story — “It has to grab them in some way”;

•    Develop good visuals to support your story;

•    Practise your opening;

•    Plant seeds that you’ll later — opening themes need to tie into and be consistent with your witnesses’ statements later on;

•    Be energetic but also be sincere;

•    Don’t try to be like them or talk down to the jury; and

•    Shift juror’s focus from your client.

Gareth Norris, a professor of criminology in the Department of Law and Criminology at Aberystwyth University in Wales, addressed the psychological aspects of using computer-generated exhibits to win cases. He particularly noted that “people are poor physists” and essentially if you have a graphic that shows someone can fly, people will believe they can fly.

While computer animated displays are useful and powerful, they are the most persuasive when used to augment oral testimony, and not alone, he says.

Norris has studied much about the response of juries to graphical evidence and does point out that bad animations, for example, can really detract from a case but at the end of the day animations, and even good PowerPoint presentations, tend to show you are prepared when you come into the courtroom — so use them.

Here are his tips on creating good visual exhibits:

•    Keep it simple;

•    Don’t rely on the animated graphics to win your case;

•    Animations are demonstrative aids to complement testimony;

•    Pay attention to what your opposition is doing; and

•    Test your animations on an audience beforehand to make sure it shows what you want it to say.

Find more from the panel at the science and technology law section’s conference page.


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