Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Technology and the Chewbacca defense.

Over the years I have been asked by several case teams about the dangers of using tech in the courtroom. Most of these inquiries were founded in the belief that technology may be too slick. Or perhaps the jury may infer the client has a tremendous amount of resources to spend on the case. Of course ten years ago those were valid concerns but not in our current age of increasingly tech savvy jurors. However, there are also still many pockets of resistance amongst the general populace. Therefore, we must consider the ramifications of letting the technology overwhelm the audience.

Interestingly enough I am not referring to the technology you may use in your own presentation. Instead those tools which are employed by your adversary. In my experience there has been a very subtle increase in the use of technology to confuse the jury. The presentation could be an over complicated graph, animation or demonstrative of some type. These examples are almost always supported by the tech/lawyer speak of an expert witness.

A few years ago I was involved in a two week trial were this strategy was engaged. Plaintiff’s engineering expert used an electronic whiteboard and went on to create a mathematical nightmare. During various points of this presentation video clips of his tests were displayed to the jury via monitors. It was apparent to me that this entire exercise really amounted to nothing. Although the case team’s goal was to attempt to make the witness and his arguments seem more intelligent then they actually were. This went on for a good two hours to the crossed eyes of some jurors.

This is a classic example of the Chewbacca defense during a trial presentation. The Chewbacca defense is a fictional legal strategy used in episode 27 of South Park. Just for reference the Chewbacca defense is a strategy which seeks to overwhelm its audience with nonsensical arguments, as a way of confusing the audience and drowning out legitimate opposing arguments.

To combat this approach our team also used technology but had simplified the message. We already knew what to expect at trial just based off expert reports. The art of visual communication is to assist the audience with comprehending the information it is asked to absorb. We did not painstakingly show the jury all the equations used to come to a conclusion. That experience was akin to performing a self lobotomy with a spoon.

Instead we went back to basics and asked our expert to explain her conclusions from the witness stand. This testimony was bolstered by photographs, minimal graphics and documents which mirrored what she was saying. Everything was presented on a large screen so the court, counsel and jury could all see the evidence at the same time. The end result was a jury which was paying attention (half the battle) and nodding their heads which is always a partial acknowledgment that something is sinking in.

Be prepared to counter your opponent’s use of technology as a confusion factor. This can be completed in part with the less is more theory. However, enough intelligent sounding and compelling information presented with technology is a powerful weapon. The CSI effect is a specter in our courtrooms which has a very strong presence. Juror’s love technology and expect it during a trial presentation. Be sure to provide them the opportunity to see it used correctly through good visual communication. A clear message presented with technology as an aid is appreciated by the jury. So much that your adversary’s case my suddenly take on the aura of a babbling wookiee!


Chewbacca defense. (2010, November 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Chewbacca_defense&oldid=396930301

Wookiee. (2010, November 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wookiee&oldid=396313538