Monday, November 30, 2009

Civil trials and the CSI effect.

The CSI effect refers to the forensic television drama, which currently enthralls throngs of people. The perceived problem with the CSI effect is that the viewing public considers these shows as fact. This is a particular problem when you are dealing with a criminal trial and your jury is composed of that viewing public. If you do a quick Google search, you will see the web is filled with articles, white papers and blogs touching on this very subject. In fact, it has become such a problem that potential jurors find themselves, during voir dire, questioned whether they are viewers of shows such as CSI.

I have been following the concepts behind the CSI effect for quite some time now. Not scientifically but rather from a mundane perspective. I must admit before I go any further that I personally only have ever seen CSI perhaps once. This could be related to the old adage of not bringing your work home with you. It could also have something to do with the two toddlers running around in my house. Unfortunately, I still have to deal with Elmo and I do not mean a visual presenter.

This phenomenon of questioning forensic evidence during a real trial is fascinating to me. Just to illustrate how popular a show like CSI is to date there is over 500 episodes. These have been shown in 200 countries with a combined audience of 2 billion people. Crime TV is popular and audiences love the whiz-bang technology that is used. This I believe completely makes the transition to civil matters, which are the bulk of any trial consultant’s time. Jurors expect technology to be present in trial no matter what the case background.

Still to this day I speak with case teams who are concerned with being to flashy or overwhelming the jury with images on a screen. I could understand this concern back in 1990s when things were still relatively new. However looking ahead at 2010 our jurors are very different. Young and old they are using social media, wireless devices and a good percentage of them are under the influence of the CSI effect. Our society is inundated with visual learners who retain more when they both see and hear it. Nothing bolsters the ability to reach that goal more then convincing presentation technology.

Just think jurors are actually questioning forensic evidence techniques during criminal trials. This could be the collection of evidence to the technology used to interpret it. All based on a fictional television show, a visual media source. Now imagine a civil matter where a presentation includes no technology. You have a case team using flip charts, reading documents the jury cannot see, or worse a foam blowup of some complicated issue. Sure all those tactile demonstratives have their uses and can be very powerful. Nevertheless, I would argue they are slowly becoming very limited as our tech savvy jury rolls their eyes at them.

It is very hard to focus attention on what many younger jurors consider archaic presentation techniques. I once was involved in a trial where at completion the judge allowed counsel to interview willing jurors. One of the panel was a schoolteacher for a third grade class. Opposing counsel used no technology during the trial whatsoever. The teacher explained to counsel that she thought his presentation was very difficult to follow. However, most compelling of all was her comment that she uses PowerPoint to help teach her third graders. To flashy? Overwhelming? Not according to a class of eight year olds. Those third graders in the blink of an eye will be our jurors of tomorrow.


CSI effect. (2009, October 21). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

CSI (franchise). (2009, November 30). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from

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