Show, Don’t Tell

Show Don't Tell Animated Trial Graphics Provide An Edge In Litigation

Show, Don’t Tell

Animated Trial Graphics Provide An Edge in Las Vegas Litigation

By Peter Laurent

Common wisdom says that settling out of court is the model civil-case outcome; however, this does not necessarily link settlement to plaintiff success. According to a 2009 study from Cornell University accounting for cases that had been terminated, the success rate for civil cases which settle average at only two-thirds1. In fact, plaintiffs that do go to trial have only a 47 percent success rate in trials for personal damages2.

When there’s little more than a coin toss to decide the success of your case, it’s no wonder why more and more firms are looking for an edge in their persuasion techniques. Insert digital animation as support for a plaintiff’s argument is a recent courtroom innovation.

Digital animation is what you see in Hollywood movies and offers the ability to recreate an incident in a virtual world. It is a powerful way to convey a complex message in a courtroom situation. For example: Have you ever had a case where your client has a rock-solid defense on paper, but describing the emotional state of the client or the sequence of events just flies over the heads of everyone in the room?

Crucial pieces of an argument, such as the layout of the events and environment, or emotional pressure on the plaintiff, can be quickly forgotten without a visual representation for jurors to easily grasp.

Visuals can:

  • Stick in long-term memory
  • Transmit messages faster
  • Improve comprehension
  • Trigger emotions
  • Motivate learners

Standardized memory tests, such as the Wechsler Memory Scale (1946), show that people quickly forget about two-thirds of what they hear. Many studies draw similar conclusions.

This is where an animated video that clearly shows events unfolding as your client alleges can be a game-changer in your case. More than simply showing the arrangement of an event in real-time, an effective digital animation can show the emotional stress or physical injury as if the event had been captured by a film studio. It is far easier for the average person to remember a scene from a movie than a passage from a book.

A more recent study in 2011 by Dr. Ken Broda Bahm took 1,375 eligible jurors and presented them with the same case using five different methods: (1) no graphics (2) flip charts (3) static graphics (4) animated graphics (5) a full immersion of both animated and static graphics. Not surprisingly, the full-immersion method worked best. When the jurors’ attention was fully engaged with graphics, emphasizing the attorney’s dialogue at all times, they became more responsive and attentive and therefore more likely to reach the verdict desired3.

As an example of how a digital animation video works, in a case of drunken behavior on an empty freeway late one night in Las Vegas, one of the co-defendants drove their BMW into the safety railing, blocking several lanes. When a police officer pulled over to check on the driver, the officer was struck by a speeding truck. The officer survived and took action against the driver of the truck.

There are so many pieces of circumstantial evidence in that one paragraph that it would be pored over and picked apart many times before any party could agree on a settlement or a verdict being reached. The amount of personal anguish suffered by the police officer is difficult to gauge years after the events have occurred. But in a video created by Litigation Document Group to help re-stage events, the viewers could see the correct procedures being followed by the officer, and get a sense of how violent the impact was on his body. Whenever I show this video, there is always a big cringe or gasps of horror from the audience at the moment of impact.

How is an animation like this created? It takes the latest in computer software and hardware, often an entire “farm” of computers working in a network to output the final image. However, the computer doesn’t know what to create without a highly qualified artist to shape the visuals.

The artist will take the reference material supplied by the attorney and create a rough layout of the scene in 3D space. Most objects start out as a basic cube. The artist then cuts and reshapes it like clay until they have a basic shape of a car or human or anything else needed. They then paint the colors onto a flat image and apply this to the model, and repeat the process for everything that will appear in the shot. Once everything is ready, they add the lighting and shading, and finally animate the moving parts using inverse kinematic skeletal rigs, path constraints, motion capture, and particles or other visual effects.

These techniques can take a lifetime to master, like any other art form.

At this point there may be some feedback from the attorney to get the exact feeling from the animation that they are trying to convey. The artist will make any adjustments and send off the completed files for the computer network farm to create the final images.

The result of coming prepared with an animation can devastate your opposing legal team’s defenses, or gain unprecedented levels of empathy from a jury to decide in your favor.


  1. Eisenberg, Theodore and Lanvers, Charlotte, “What is the Settlement Rate and Why Should We Care?” (2009).Cornell Law Faculty Publications. Paper 203. http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/facpub/203
  1. Theodore Eisenberg, Neil LaFountain, Brian Ostrom, and David Rottman,Juries, Judges, and Punitive Damages: An Empirical Study, 87 Cornell Rev. 743 (2002)   Available at: http://scholarship.law.cornell.edu/clr/vol87/iss3/2
  1. Ken Broda-Bahm, Adapting to JurorsComprehensionOpening Statement | – See more at: http://www.persuasivelitigator.com/2011/07/show-dont-just-tell-continuity.html

Peter Laurent is the animation director at Litigation Document Group, a one-source, one-solution company for servicing the varied litigation needs of today’s law firm. Its in-house printing company provides business cards, brochures, marketing material, while also fulfilling services like 3D animation, medical records retrieval, redacting, courtroom equipment rental, and many other services. For a full list of services, visit www.ldglv.com.