Chapter 5: Multimedia Arguments

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Chapter 5, Multimedia Arguments, addresses advocates’ use of digital media in opening statements and closing arguments, when a lawyer can be more openly rhetorical. Advocates today can speak against a continuous background of PowerPoint slides projected on a giant courtroom screen, or integrate sound with pictures and text to offer fully multimedia performances that inform, entertain, and convince their audiences. It’s only natural that advocates would want to appeal to their audiences using the media in which those audiences are increasingly immersed in their everyday lives. As legal persuasion increasingly adopts the tools and techniques of television, movies, and the Internet, however, legal judgment itself may change.

We study two examples in detail. First, we return to the Michael Skakel murder trial and examine the prosecution’s use of its interactive digital presentation system during rebuttal to combine audio, text, and image files into a seamless display. Next we turn to two trials concerning the pain-relief medication Vioxx. The plaintiff’s lead lawyer made the most ambitious use of PowerPoint and other digital media yet seen in courtroom argument, combining stock photos, clip art, and simple phrases to form a continuous, running backdrop for his oral advocacy, providing a stage set for his performance and translating the plaintiff’s theory of the case into a simple, compelling story line. We conclude by asking whether advocates’ uses of new media tools are likely to enhance or impair justice.

State v. Skakel

Regrettably the audiovisual material discussed in the book is unavailable to the general public. In November, 2002, Connecticut Public Television’s “Main Street” program broadcast a segment concerning the prosecution’s summation, featuring interviews with prosecutors Jonathan Benedict and Christopher Morano and legal visual consultant Brian Carney.

Merck & Co., Inc. v. Ernst

Plaintiff’s lawyer accompanied his opening statement with a running PowerPoint slide show of over 150 slides. Here are a few that we discuss in detail in the book: (1) The “framing” slide announcing the themes of the argument; (2) Selections from a sequence of slides depicting the backstory: how Merck changed its character to become a “profit at all costs” company; (3) An example of simple, dramatic images used to capture a metaphor.

Ernst Power Point from Law on Display

Cona and McDarby v. Merck & Co., Inc.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer again used continuous PowerPoint backdrops for his opening statement and closing argument. Here are two telling images: (1) The plaintiffs’ theme: Merck’s officers and experts as “Desperate Executives”; (2) Framing the argument as television.