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Ken Margolin
Ken Margolin
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The Power of Exhibits

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I wonder if anyone has ever calculated the number of words per hour spoken during the average jury trial. The right words, used the right way, can evoke the most powerful of images, associations, and emotions. Words can also drone on and become little more than background noise to the listener. The lawyer trying a case involving catastrophic personal injury, has a challenge. He may need to educate the jury on a scientific topic, for example accident reconstruction. He may need to make sure they understand the scope of the plaintiff’s economic loss.

Accomplishing the necessary jury education and persuasion in a complex personal injury trial, is not possible with words alone. On the other hand, too much use of exhibits could turn a trial into a circus, detracting from the seriousness of the matter at hand. The plaintiff’s lawyer needs to balance words with exhibits, simple exhibits with more elaborate displays. Basic blowups of pages of medical records can be very useful, as can enlarged color photographs. In a medical malpractice case in which a timeline is important, the attorney can hire companies that will create a visually engaging horizontal chronology, based on medical records entries. In a construction accident case, an attorney may have a detailed model built, replicating the scene where his client was hurt. Tangible things can work better in some cases, than photographs.

Sometimes, nothing but the actual item in question, or an exact duplicate, will do. As I write this piece, a colleague of mine is trying a case on behalf of a restaurant worker severely burned when a heavy cauldron tipped over too far, emptying its load of scalding water on the man. At considerable expense and effort, my colleague purchased a duplicate of the cauldron in question and had it delivered, bolted to planks, to the 5th floor courtroom. I don’t know yet if he’ll win, but if he does, you can bet that the kettle will have played a major role. Computer animations of events can be useful, provided the judge is convinced that they are sufficiently accurate to be allowed into evidence, and the jury believes they are fair representations of events. The use of exhibits is vital and their variety is as limitless as an attorney’s imagination.