Contributing Professional

Ryan MacDougall

the Topic

4 (Affordable &) Highly Effective Visual Aids Lawyers Should Use Now

Everyone has heard the adage: a picture is worth a thousand words. It is something that we all hear and can generally acknowledge; however, when we put it into context, it really becomes significant. I came to that realization when talking with a colleague about his experience during a month long introduction crime scene investigation training he underwent to become a government Agent. During the course, he spent hours and hours learning how to meticulously document pieces of evidence as he collected it. He said he got to the point where he was able to describe a single Coca-Cola can using exactly 1,103 words to completely and entirely document that specific can beyond any other in the world that looks like it to the untrained eye (I remember the exact number because it is insane)

Once he mastered the art of describing evidence to that extent, they moved him to a mostly sterile room with only two pieces of furniture and three or four pieces of evidence within it. There, he spent 8-10 hours processing those few pieces, fixing them in the room so he could reconstruct the scene if he ever had to. He then hit me with a photo like the one below. “How long do you think that would take?”

Because of that experience, I can pinpoint that as the exact moment in time when I truly began to appreciate the power of what a visual image can do to help explain a situation. It’s an experience that I have carried ever since and is why finding ways to simplify complex things has been top of mind as I work daily with attorneys trying to show their stories in a way that people can understand.

Admittedly, because of my position as a forensic animator and my experience working on so many cases, I may be a bit more aware of the importance of visual aids than most. With that in mind, I find that the biggest hurdle attorneys have in venturing into this is the costs to create some of these exhibits. However, there are many that be more affordable than you think, and they can go a long way to help clients during settlement negotiations, mediation, and trial. 

I created a list of my top four cost-effective visual aids that attorneys can add to their cases quickly.

1. Colorization of MRI/X-Ray films (Cost: $400 per image)

The colorization of an MRI or X-Ray is the process of having a forensic artist take DICOM images, diagnostic films, operative reports, and photos of the client/injury, and convert them into digital images using software applications, then using artistic software to outline the injuries/surgical hardware and apply colorization and/or enhancements to bring the image to life in a way that is clear, understandable, and relatable.

When can you use colorized MRIs and films?

You can use colorized MRIs and films at all stages of litigation. They are an excellent tool to provide to defense counsel early on in the case to communicate the seriousness of the injury and that you are working up your case. They help the mediator clearly see the injuries (seriously, they often cringe when they look at them for the first time). Finally, they can also be used at trial as a demonstrative aid to “aid and assist” your expert doctor’s testimony. They simply help the doctor communicate and connect with the jury in a way that words simply cannot do.

2. Age Progression Photographs (Cost $450 per progression step)

Age progression photographs are one of the “best kept secrets” in wrongful death cases, especially when you are representing a young person. They are photographs that are created using artificial intelligence to show what the person would have looked like during different phases of their life. They truly help to bring to light what the actual loss is for the loved ones left behind. We have age progressed children into adults, young adults into elderly and everything in between.

Total Trial Solutions Age Progression

When can you use Age Progression Photographs?

You can also use these during all stages of litigation. They help show that there was a life lost and what the family is missing out on in the future. At mediation, they are a great tool to show what someone would have looked like at retirement age with their surviving spouse (we can age progress the spouse too).

They can also be used at trial. In fact, in New York, a lawyer even used these to show that the victim was going to be attractive and that attractive people make more money than less attractive people. He backed it with expert economists who study that and was able to increase his damages after using a forensic anthropologist to lay the foundation for the likely accuracy of the progressions.

3. Treatment Timelines (Cost $300-$1,500, depending on length of record)

Treatment timelines are a visual graphic created to offer injury attorneys a simple, yet effective way to showcase the totality of a client’s medical treatment. These highlight office visits, surgeries, physical and occupational therapy treatments, visits to pain management facilities, chiropractic treatment, mental health appointments, and more all on a single visual.

When can you use Treatment/Prescription Timelines?

Similar to the previous visual aids, you can use these during all stages of the litigation. They are a great tool to show the sheer volume of treatment your client had as a result of their injuries. They help the mediator realize the commitment your client had to treating and getting better (as well as the life impact the injury had on their day-to-day). Treatment/Prescription timelines make a lasting impression on jurors. It is one thing to hear about all the different types of appointments your client had, but it is often astonishing when they see them represented this way.

These are especially powerful in cases where there are prior injuries, as the defense often tries to point to those in an effort to reduce the value. However, these can show both injuries and how the treatment spiked after the injury with the defendant.

One thing to note is that the artist has to have a concise chronological account of treatment to create accurate treatment/prescription timelines. They are artist and do not review thousands of pages of medical records in order to gather information. Artists will need a medical chronology or treatment timeline before they can start.

Attorneys use Treatment/Prescription Timelines as a reference during depositions, mediation, and at trial. The use of Treatment Timelines benefits attorneys, but also juries. Juries tend to interpret information better when it’s delivered in a visual manner.

4. Focus Group Clips (Cost $300 - $600 depending on editing time)

Focus group clips is the process of taking what potential jurors are saying about the case and showing it to the defense and mediator at mediation (or during settlement negotiations). Naturally, this means you need to do the focus group first, but once you have the focus group, picking select clips and using ordinary people to help combat defense arguments at mediation is very powerful.

When I introduce this to people, I always get the same response: “That won’t work, they will know you are only playing certain clips.” My response to that is that is “Who cares?.” Properly run focus groups help you recognize your case weaknesses AND help you identify ways to overcome them (most people erroneously stop at identifying the weaknesses). What’s more important than what the rest of the clips may or may not show is that you are sending the message that you are investing in your case and preparing for trial – because that is exactly what you are doing. You want to have a huge volume of clips and you want them to know that you do. You want them to know it is a serious situation and that you are preparing. It is not a fly by night case they will just buy themselves out of.

Start using visual aids – your clients deserve it.

Ultimately, there are dozens of things an attorney can do to help increase the value of their client’s case and help the other side see things as they actually are for your client. All of these are relatively affordable options to quickly pad your side and give the other side a better understanding of your argument.

About the Author

Ryan has has been a visual and graphic arts for nearly 20 years, starting in Los Angeles performing on-air graphics for live television broadcasts and later working on national ad campaigns as an editor, VFX artist, and colorist for clients such as Universal Pictures, Google, Pepsi, Apple, Starbucks, BeatsbyDre, Victoria’s Secret, and dozens of others. Now, as a forensic animator at TTS he likes to work directly with attorneys and their experts to fine-tune and perfect the animations down to the finest detail. His work has helped attorneys settle and bring dozens of 6, 7, & 8 figure cases to verdict.

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