Persuade judges with visual aids showing salient evidence.
Instead of telling judges and juries what the evidence shows, show them the evidence and help them draw appropriate inferences from that evidence.
“Show, don’t tell” is the most common writing and trial-advocacy advice one hears. But there’s a reason people keep repeating it: knowing a principle in the abstract isn’t the same as consistently honoring it in one’s work. (This is why self-help books have yet to solve the problem of procrastination.)
Attorneys often describe evidence in broad, general terms. That’s fine for an introductory overview (what Ross Guberman, in the legal-writing classic Point Made, calls a “panoramic shot”). But such introductory statements should be immediately followed by specific facts with citations to evidence — or, even better, visual aids showing the evidence itself. In Elegant Legal Writing, I discuss how to use salient details and visual evidence to tell your client’s story in a way that advances their legal arguments.
Running a business litigation firm, Rushing McCarl LLP, allows me to experiment with storytelling techniques in our briefs and motions and at trial. For example, I’m unaware of any other firm using a QR code to embed a video in a motion to compel:
Great litigation attorneys know how to weave compelling evidence into narratives that align with a legal analysis. Here are a few more examples from Rushing McCarl LLP’s work:
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Judges and juries wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they unquestioningly accepted the advocate’s summaries and characterizations, and these are unpersuasive anyway. So instead of asserting that a defendant spoliated evidence, show the email where the defendant told a subordinate to delete files. Instead of asserting that a property seller misled the buyer by concealing a termite problem, show the ravaged wood. Instead of asserting that the seller incurred monetary damages due to the buyer’s failure to pay for a massive hand-sanitizer order, show the wasted pallets of sanitizer expiring in a warehouse.
In short, whenever possible, instead of telling the judge or jury what the evidence shows, show them the evidence and help them draw appropriate inferences from that evidence.
Ryan McCarl is a founding partner of Rushing McCarl LLP, author of Elegant Legal Writing (U. Cal. Press 2024), and adjunct professor at Loyola Law School. For more writing tips, subscribe to the Elegant Legal Writing newsletter and follow Ryan on LinkedIn. McCarl’s book is now available on Amazon.
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