135 – Amy Hall – The “Formula” for Effective Visual Trial Strategy

Lawyers know their cases backwards and forwards. However, jurors may need help honing in on the most important elements of a case. Visual trial strategy helps create a series of clear, tailored exhibits to present to a jury at trial.

On this episode of Trial Lawyer Nation, Michael Cowen talks to visual trial strategist, Amy Hall. Amy discusses her tried-and-true three-exhibit formula–the anchor, the link, and the payoff–which she uses to distill everything in a complex case into these three themes. Additionally, Amy explains that because jurors learn better by combining both visual and auditory means, she always recommends using physical exhibits while presenting your case instead of fumbling over technology. Tune in to learn how to employ visual trial strategy to guide juries through trials.

Featured Guest

Name: Amy Hall

About: Amy Hall’s background in cognitive science, journalism, the gambling industry, advertising, and graphic design, has given her a unique and highly relevant skill set for litigation strategy. She combines exceptional design, editing, and writing with real-world insights on decision-making and emotion to distill case themes into an effective visual strategy. She helps identify the difficult truths in a case, and then helps resolve them, providing tangible, ready-to-use tools that address the toughest case issues.

Company: Amy Hall’s Visual Trial Strategy

Connect: LinkedIn | Trial Strategy Academy CLE

Episode Highlights 

[2:10] What is Visual Trial Strategy?: Visual trial strategy involves demonstrative exhibits that are interrelated, interdependent, and strategically sequenced to support every meaningful point in your case. It’s a process that starts early in case development. 

[8:38] Learning From the Best: Amy’s first introduction into the world of litigation strategy came from famed strategist Ronald Jew, who taught her how to analyze cases and teach them visually and persuasively to juries.

[10:36] Developing a Visual Trial Strategy: Start by writing a neutral statement of the case that distills the case down to two pages. Then identify any landmines that might kill your case so that you know how to attack them. 

[13:22] Single Point of Failure: After you’ve laid the foundation for your trial strategy, you must then find the “single point of failure” in your case–why this happened and why it should have been prevented. For example, Amy will look for systemic failures that caused the harm, not just a single bad actor.

[16:36] Visual Trial Strategy Timeline: Amy will work on only one case at a time, including unpacking the case, putting it back together and creating demonstrative exhibits. However, this iterative process is not just about images to show the jury, but also should focus on the words used.

[19:51] Teamwork Makes the Dream Work: Amy prefers working with all members of the team, so long as it doesn’t exceed five people. With more than five people, there tends to be too many cooks in the kitchen.

[21:06] “No One is as Smart as Everyone”: Paralegals and legal assistants are not afflicted with the “curse of knowledge,” so they are invaluable in preparing for a trial. Their view of the case will be closer to a juror’s than the attorney who is deeply entrenched in the case, so be sure to thank your support staff!

[22:38] The Formula for Exhibits: Amy and her team will create a three-exhibit set–the anchor (preexisting conditions), the link (bad acts of the defendant), and the payoff (damages). Every fact in the case will fall into one of these three categories.

[25:36] Anchor-Link-Payoff Example: In a trucking case, for example, the first exhibit would be the safety measures and regulations in place for trucking companies. The second exhibit would be the trucking company putting an unsafe driver behind the wheel, and the third would be the harm to the plaintiff.

[29:04] Teaching the Formula Visually: Using a document deconstruction, Amy will simplify authorities and sources and provide the jury with a takeaway in a “chatty yellow box.” Michael now insists that his expert witnesses use this format in their testimony.

[32:01] Cases Should Feel Simple: When you’re using the three-exhibit set correctly, the case should be easy for jurors to understand, which allows you to earn their trust. From there, you can teach complex topics because they all ultimately boil down to your basic formula.

[34:34] The Benefits of Physical Exhibits: Based on her experience in over 400 cases, Amy has learned that jurors learn best from physical boards, even if it requires more preparation. Fumbling with technology will hurt your credibility, but don’t forget to practice with the physical boards too.

[40:38] Visually Depicting a Client’s Harm: Instead of relying on impersonal medical illustrations, focus on loss of function, including what they liked to do before the harm occurred. To demonstrate this, you can use the same three-exhibit set to present medical damages.

[43:22] Starting Early: Michael begins asking about the client’s life before the accident in their very first meeting. Ask your clients and their families early and often for pictures that you can begin using at mediation to signal to the defendant that you’re ready for trial.

[48:27] Cognitive Rationale for Visuals: Vision is key to how people learn, remember and care about things, but language is also vital. Visual trial strategy merges both to most effectively help jurors understand the material, even as they tune in and out.

[52:16] Repetition is Valuable: Jurors love when you show them your most important benchmark or keystone exhibits more than once. These help them link all the information together, which is another reason physical boards are preferable.

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In this popular and award-winning podcast for trial lawyers, noteworthy author, sought-after speaker, and renowned trial lawyer, Michael Cowen explores critical topics distinctive to the legal profession with some of the biggest names in the industry – specifically focused on developing extremely efficient law practices, securing a competitive edge in the industry, and wildly excelling in the courtroom.

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