framing

83 – Cliff Atkinson – Beyond Bullet Points: The Art of Visual Storytelling

In this episode of the Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael sits down with consultant Cliff Atkinson. Cliff has worked with some of the top trial lawyers in the country to help them better tell their clients’ stories. He and Michael discuss his path to success, what he’s found effective for telling stories at trial, how to use the visual medium to help tell a story and where to find good visuals, the creative process, and how Zoom effects our ability to present information.

Cliff and Michael begin the episode with a look at Cliff’s backstory. He shares how he first used PowerPoint for a business school project in the late 90’s, where he added bullet pointed information into the slides like everyone else. A few years later while looking at some blank slides, he realized it could be SO much more than that. As he began writing articles about using PowerPoint as a creative medium, he began receiving attention. After consulting with General Electric’s board, he was approached by Microsoft to write a book about using PowerPoint creatively, which became the bestseller “Beyond Bullet Points”. After Mark Lanier read his book and couldn’t put it down, he was brought in on his first case- Mark’s legendary $253 million verdict against Vioxx, and the rest is history.

Michael then digs deeper into what Cliff has found effective for telling our stories at trial. While Cliff is well-known for his PowerPoint prowess, he insists the story needs to be crafted before you can even THINK about the visuals. Once you have your story, the visuals ride on top of it, magnify it, and make it more powerful.

Michael notes how it can be a challenge to distill the vast number of facts in a case into a story, and asks Cliff for his advice on how to craft a compelling story. He starts with finding the structure using a 3-part story tool template. It’s about making it clear, concise, and powerful. But Cliff insists that it’s NOT about dumbing it down for the jury, it’s about distilling it down. Michael wholeheartedly agrees with this statement and adds that it’s about trusting and respecting the jurors – a recurring theme in this podcast. Cliff then refers to a concept from the book “Made to Stick” called “The Curse of Knowledge.” If you’ve been working on something for a long time and you’re explaining it to someone who hasn’t seen it before, you’re going to have a hard time looking at it like a beginner.

Cliff then begins to elaborate on how to incorporate the visual medium into your story. After sharing an inspiring example of this being done successfully in Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, Cliff eloquently explains this verbiage is the infrastructure for the visual. Once you find your engaging thematic element, the visuals are easy to find. He likes to keep images simple and shares an example from a very complex financial case. He used a blue bucket to demonstrate the key facts of the case, and it simplified the case so well the jurors were asking about it after the case and it undoubtedly helped the attorney win. The key is to make the experience fun and entertaining for the jury.

After a brief but insightful discussion of high tech vs. low tech visuals, Cliff highlights some of his favorite ways to find visuals. The largest source would be items you already have, including documents, PDFs, screen captures from Google Earth, and dashcam video. Once you have all of those visuals, you can do custom 3D constructions, or just do a Google image search to see what’s out there. If you find something close to what you’d like, you can easily hire a freelance graphic designer to create the image you want. Michael then shares some of his favorite low-budget visuals he’s created in his career, and urges listeners to think outside of the box before shelling out $20,000 for an elaborate model.

On the topic of creative thinking, Cliff highly recommends setting aside space in your office for a “creative room.” Keep all the courtroom toys in there, and encourage your lawyers to spend time exploring the visceral part of communication they can so easily feel removed from. Michael shares how some lawyers can be scared to get creative and break away from what’s been done in the past. Cliff agrees, and suggests those lawyers focus on wanting the jurors to have fun. Then, have fun with helping THEM have fun.

Lastly, Michael and Cliff discuss how to tell a story effectively over Zoom. Cliff’s main takeaways involve doing the little things to get an edge over the other side. Things like upgrading your webcam, microphone, and lighting can make a massive difference in your ethos and how the jury perceives your story. He likens a messy background in a Zoom meeting to wearing a crappy suit in court, it worsens your credibility.

To take it a step further, Cliff recommends looking into software you can use to enhance the experience even further. He highly recommends ECAMM or Manycam if you’re on a tighter budget. These tools allow you to be your own videographer and can even create a more engaging experience than if you were with them in person.

If you’d like to learn more about or work with Cliff Atkinson, visit his website. He offers full-day private workshops on storytelling and a course to teach you how to implement these techniques yourself, which Cliff believes is the future.

This podcast episode also covers more details on Mark Lanier’s Vioxx trial, how haikus can help you become a better advocate, why the “Rule of 3’s” exists, whether high tech or low tech visuals are more effective, how Zoom can be even better than in-person videography, and so much more.

Guest Bio:

Cliff Atkinson is an acclaimed writer, popular keynote speaker, and an independent communications consultant to leading attorneys and Fortune 500 companies. He crafted the presentation that persuaded a jury to award a $253 million verdict to the plaintiff in the nation’s first Vioxx trial in 2005, which Fortune magazine called “frighteningly powerful.

Cliff’s bestselling book Beyond Bullet Points (published by Microsoft Press) was named a Best Book of 2007 by the editors of Amazon.com, and has been published in four editions and translated into a dozen languages including Chinese, Korean, and Russian.  His work has been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and Fox News.

 

64 – Mark Mandell – The Case Framing Mindset

In this Trial Lawyer Nation podcast, Michael is joined by legendary trial lawyer and author Mark Mandell. Mark wrote the must-read books “Case Framing” and “Advanced Case Framing.” Michael and Mark take a detailed look inside these books, including what case framing is, how to apply case framing, what “I just can’t get over” issues are, using “echoes” in trial, Mark’s trial closing strategy, and the story of the hardest case Mark ever tried.

Michael begins the episode by asking Mark to describe what case framing is. Mark starts at the beginning and explains how when he first started practicing, plaintiff lawyers were basically in “the dark ages.” Mark began looking for new ways to try cases almost immediately, but found each method he tried had holes in it. Then about 15 years ago, he started to study decision science and put together the basis of case framing.

Mark insists case framing is not just a method. As another great lawyer stated and Mark has since adopted, “It’s more than a model. It’s a mindset.” Mark explains how case framing has become a part of him, and influences everything he does both pre-trial and in trial. When he was first asked to describe case framing in one sentence, Mark struggled initially but then settled on, “Every single thing you present at trial needs to be framed and sequenced in a way that focuses the attention of the jurors on the points YOU most want to make.” He goes on to describe how a case is decided by what it’s focused on, so why would you want to focus on anything else? As Mark astutely summarizes, “A case frame is the heart and soul of the case. It gives the case meaning.”

Mark continues with explaining how a case frame needs to have two qualities. It needs to relate to the facts of the case, and it needs to have universal application in our society. He shares the detailed example of how he first came to understand this from the OJ Simpson criminal trial. Mark lists off the issues of the case and explains how they aren’t case frames. After exhausting these, Mark explains how the case frame was actually wrongful accusation and elaborates on why that is such a powerful case frame to use because of both its power and universal applicability.

Michael then asks Mark to explain the next level of case framing, which Mark named “I just can’t get over” issues. Simply put, it’s an issue that if a jury can’t get over, it’s going to guide their verdict. These issues can come from an almost endless amount of places, but they need to embody that statement.

As a follow up Michael asks what every listener must be thinking, what are some examples of defense “I can’t get over” issues and what can plaintiff lawyers do to overcome them? Mark gives a laundry list of examples and directs listeners to his book “Advanced Case Framing” where he details 16 different ways to overcome them. He briefly explains how to overcome these issues by refuting them or by “substituting them” or “overcoming them” with more powerful issues.

Another aspect of case framing Mark discusses in his books is “echoes.” Marks insists this is actually one of the hardest concepts to understand. An echo needs to either support or defend an issue, or Mark says you shouldn’t use it. It can be a document, idea, exhibit, or many other things that cause a good issue to reverberate throughout the jury’s head throughout trial. Mark explains how people need echoes to fully understand something because nobody can pay attention indefinitely. He then provides several examples of echoes he used when trying a DRAM shop case which he says is the hardest case he’s ever tried. Through this example, he highlights the importance of ignoring chronology and starting the case at the #1 “good for you” issue in the case.

The conversation shifts to a discussion of Mark’s different closing strategies. The first of those is that he never discloses his overall case frame until closing. He has numerous reasons for doing this, including that you need to leave something new to tell the jury in closing – and since the jury always goes into closing arguments undecided on something, what could be better to present to them than your overall case frame? His other reasons include rebuttal rules and that your case frame can change during trial, based on how it unfolds.

Mark is also known for using questions in his closing arguments, which Michael asks Mark to explain. Mark offers a surprisingly simple answer – people don’t like being told what to do. Mark continues by explaining that when you tell the jury what to do, YOU become the issue. When jurors come up with the answer themselves, “They own that answer now.”  He believes this causes them to go into deliberation much stronger. Michael adds that trusting the jury is both the most liberating and terrifying thing, to which Mark agrees. But, it makes trial a lot more fun AND leads to better results.

Michael and Mark conclude the episode by taking a detailed look at the DRAM shop case which Mark insists is the most difficult case he’s ever tried. Mark walks listeners through the shocking details of the case and explains how he applied his methods throughout. After being told by countless lawyers to drop the case, Mark walked away with a $21.5 million verdict after interest. This story truly needs to be heard to be appreciated.

This podcast also covers Mark’s advice on one of Michael’s more challenging cases, using anchors in trial, secondary case frames, beginning every witness examination with an “I can’t get over” issue, and so much more.

If you’d like to learn more from Mark Mandell, visit his website and purchase his books “Case Framing” and “Advanced Case Framing” here.

 

Guest Bio:

Mark Mandell practices law at Mandell, Boisclair & Mandell, Ltd. in Providence, Rhode Island. He specializes in catastrophic personal injury, wrongful death, medical negligence, dram shop and products liability cases.  He is triple Board Certified, nationally.  His certifications are in the areas of Civil Trials, Civil Pretrial and Medical Negligence Litigation.  Mr. Mandell is currently listed in “The Best Lawyers in America.” He is a member of the Inner Circle of Advocates.  Mr. Mandell is a past president of American Association for Justice, Rhode Island Trial Lawyers Association, and The Rhode Island Bar Association.  He is the immediate past chair of the Board of Directors of the Roger Williams University School of Law. He has more million dollar verdicts and verdicts of over $10,000,000 than any other lawyer in Rhode Island history.  Mark has written two books “Case Framing” and “Advanced Case Framing”.  He has also published 24 articles in national and state trial law journals on a variety of subjects and has lectured in 48 states.

 

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