Guide to Effective Computer Presentations for Lawyers: In the Courtroom and at the Office

  • August 12, 2014
  • Julie Stauffer

Like many lawyers, the thought of incorporating computer presentations into your practice probably leaves you cold and sweaty. After all, you’re a legal professional, not a computer expert, an A/V technician, or a graphic designer.

But across Canada, a number of forward-thinking lawyers have already taken the plunge and discovered that a well-planned presentation, using PowerPoint or special trial presentation software, can enhance courtroom persuasiveness, communication with clients, and marketing efforts.

The technology isn’t even that difficult to master—if you can operate e-mail and word processing software, computer presentations are within your grasp. Given the ease of use, low cost and reliability of modern presentation technology, traditional excuses simply don’t apply anymore. Lawyers that stick to old-school thinking and that adhere to exaggerated criticisms of technology risk being left in the dust. Here’s the scoop on why you need make the leap to computer presentations, what equipment you’ll need to get going, and how to make the most of it.

Advantages in the Courtroom

Quite simply, computer presentations are the most effective way to communicate with juries who have grown up with television. Research has shown that 72 hours after hearing information, a jury remembers only 10% of it. If you present the information visually, a jury remembers 20%. But if you combine oral and visual presentations, the recall rate can shoot up to 65%.

If you’re trying to explain how a medical procedure went wrong, compare two documents side-by-side, or outline a complex sequence of events, an image will tell the story far better than words can. A few bullet points of text can drive home your opening or closing arguments or summarize key testimonial, while an animation can be a powerful way to recreate an accident scene.

Further, when you present evidence electronically, both judge and jury can see it clearly and quickly. It eliminates the need to wait while everyone fumbles to find the correct page in a hefty binder or takes their turn examining an exhibit. And while some judges insist on traditional methods, many are realizing that it’s easier, faster, and more efficient to view a CD’s worth of documents rather than going through stacks of paper.

At least one B.C. insurance litigator is convinced. Michael Maryn of Maryn & Associates says he was able to convincingly show the impact of a client’s injury with a PowerPoint presentation. “Our job as lawyers is to assist jurors in understanding the issues,” he explains. Based on his experience, Maryn believes that visual presentations are much more effective than oral arguments alone.

Advantages at the Office

Computer presentations can also expand your ability to drive home your message at the office, whether it be through marketing your practice or communicating with clients. Milton Zwicker of Zwicker, Evans & Lewis in Barrie, Ontario specializes in condo law and estate planning. He is a passionate advocate of using computer-generated flowcharts that he creates with Inspiration ( to explain wills, contracts and other complex legal documents to his clients. In every case, he finds that diagrams convey meaning far better than words.

Consider that over half of malpractice claims result from the client failing to understand what was communicated, or the lawyer failing to communicate something in the first place, and you’ve got a compelling reason to start thinking visually.

In terms of marketing, an informative PowerPoint presentation can be an excellent way to impress current or potential clients. Zwicker, for example, often gives seminars on condominium law to boards of directors and condo owners. At Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP in Winnipeg, PowerPoint presentations are used in meetings with clients, group meetings within the firm, and marketing talks to industry groups.

Getting Equipped

After you’ve bought into the power of computer presentations and made a commitment to bring the necessary technology into your practice, you’ll need to get the right equipment for your needs.  The following section offers a breakdown of the hardware and software that’s available to help you get up and running.


While it is becoming increasingly common for courtrooms and offices to have projectors on hand, firms that try cases or make other presentations on a regular basis should still invest in a portable model. A high-resolution projector will cost about $2500 for a good model. In the past, presenters were forced to choose between portability and brightness, but recent advances in technology mean you can now get very small projectors that are quite bright. Look for something that offers 1000-1100 ANSI lumens, or 2000-2500 if you’ll be using it in very large rooms. Cheaper 500-600 lumen projectors are available, but you’ll need to turn off the lights to use them.

The other important factor is resolution, which determines how much detail is visible to your audience. Pick a projector with a resolution that matches the resolution of your laptop screen, so what you see on your laptop is exactly what your audience sees.

If you’re planning on making courtroom presentations, it may be worth investing in an evidence camera (sometimes called a visualizer or presenter) available from manufacturers like Elmo (, Doar ( and WolfVision (  These machines look similar to old-fashioned overhead projectors, but include a video camera that captures and projects an image of the object you place underneath it. This can be very handy for exhibiting documents you haven’t had time to scan, or for pointing out details of a three-dimensional piece of evidence, rather than passing it among the jurors. The price can range from $2000-7000, depending on the resolution, so renting may be a good option if you don’t intend to use one frequently.

If you’ve got some money to burn, a cordless presenter is a handy gadget that will allow you to move around during your presentation, instead of being tied to your computer.

Finally, consider spending a few hundred dollars a portable screen for off-site presentations. Although you can simply aim your projector at a white wall, a screen will give you more flexibility, and the optical coatings mean a better image with more saturated colour and contrast. Choose a model with a screen height that’s approximately 1/6 the distance from the screen to the last row of seats and that is light enough to carry easily.


Standard Office Suite Presentation Programs

When it comes to presentation software, many lawyers rely on PowerPoint, both in the courtroom and at the office.

For marketing and client meetings, PowerPoint can certainly meet your needs. It allows you to create text slides and to import images, animations, and video clips. Even if you opt for a traditional oral presentation, PowerPoint can be a helpful tool for organizing your thoughts. And since it comes bundled with Microsoft Office, there’s a good chance that it’s already on your computer.

When it comes to trials, mediation or hearings, PowerPoint can be a very effective way to put your case together. Indeed, the most recent version of PowerPoint gives you many of the features that used to be found only in more sophisticated products like TrialDirector (i.e easily highlighting a portion of text within a document, or blowing up that text in a call-out box).

Although PowerPoint dominates the market, there are other, similar programs available, like Harvard Graphics ( or Corel Presentations, which comes bundled with WordPerfect Office (

Trial Presentation Software

What PowerPoint and similar programs can’t provide is the ability to organize and manipulate different pieces of evidence. For that, you’ll need specialized trial presentation software like TrialDirector (, TrialPro (, Sanction (, Visionary, or Summation. Although each program offers different functionality, they all allow lawyers to recall documents, highlight exhibits, annotate images, import graphics, edit and play video, and more. It’s up to you  to choose the program that emphasizes your favorite features.

TrialDirector (inData Corp.) and Sanction (Verdict Systems) are, arguably, the two major players in the trial presentation field today. Each package delivers similar features and boasts its own unique strengths.

TrialDirector Suite includes DocumentDirector (an image viewer that displays testimony clips and scanned images of documents stored on a database), DepositionDirector (combines audio/video depositions with smooth scrolling transcript) and TimeCoder (digital video transcript creator). TrialDirector is known for its user-friendliness and for its ability to easily recall exhibits and documents with the touch of a button.

Sanction includes all of its features in one program, and has developed a solid reputation for its expanded video editing and playback capabilities. The latest version also features enhanced renaming capabilities, annotation tools, watermarks and dual monitor control.

Trial presentation packages generally include powerful database features that can handle millions of documents, hundreds of hours of video, and graphics and animations. You can even create and print out bar codes to catalogue your evidence. During a trial, it’s possible to search the database, pull up the relevant material, and incorporate it in your presentation on the fly.

John Olah, a partner in the Toronto firm of Beard Winter LLP, relies on TrialDirector in settlement conferences, negotiations, mediation, and trials. For him, the ability to bring together photographs, illustrations, transcripts and video clips means he can make a much more persuasive presentation. “It really takes PowerPoint one step further,” he says.

For Kara Crawford, who uses Summation, the database function is key in her litigation and arbitration work at Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP. “When you have thousands of documents,” she explains, “a database system is really the only way to organize, sort and then retrieve information effectively.”

In all cases you can try a demo version of the software before you decide to buy. And don’t worry that the full version will blow your technology budget—prices generally range from US $600 to $1000.

Mastering the Technology

When you’re adding up the costs, don’t forget to set aside money for training, which is essential to make the most out of your new purchases. Industry experts say you should earmark at least a third of your technology budget for training—something most businesses fail to do. Although it’s not hard to learn the basics of most presentation software, training will familiarize you with the more advanced functions.

When you run into problems, a competent technical support person is also crucial. For small and solo practices, however, good help may be hard to find, especially outside of the big cities. Odds are that your local computer support company isn’t familiar with your specialized legal software, and companies that serve the legal sector sometimes aren’t set up to handle small firms. This makes in-house training all the more important.

Planning the Presentation

Once you’ve acquired and mastered the hardware and software, the next challenge is putting together your presentations. Begin by looking for the images that will convey your key points, and then structure the rest of your presentation around these visual anchors. Aim for about 20 slides an hour, especially if people will be taking notes. The slides can’t say it all, though – you still need to talk! Elaborate on the text that’s on screen, explain the images to your audience, and add anecdotes or examples.  

In trials, make the most of the visual and auditory potential of your demonstrative evidence. The more you can involve the jury in your case, the more they will understand your arguments. However, if you’re taking your presentation into the courtroom, it’s very important to strike the right balance: make sure the presentation is fair and accurate, and avoid anything that could be construed as inflammatory, inaccurate, or misleading.

Don’t let your enthusiasm for all things digital blind you to the advantages of lower-tech methods. If there is material you’d like to keep in view throughout your presentation, display boards or flipcharts are an excellent choice.

Making a Visual Impression

If graphic design is unfamiliar territory for you, consider hiring a professional who can create a clear, attractive presentation for you much more quickly and efficiently than you could yourself.

If you prefer the control that comes with creating a presentation yourself, take a little time to enhance your visual literacy. Far too many presenters are guilty of sins like cramming too much text into their slides, using highly saturated colours that assault their viewers’ eyes, or choosing unreadable fonts—mistakes that reduce the impact of your message and leave you looking unprofessional.

“If you’re going to bother wearing your $500 suit, and have all your gadgetry and your fancy remotes, your five-cent presentation just doesn’t fit the picture,” says Lise Daoust of Ottawa’s Simply Presentations. She offers the following guidelines for effective, well-designed slides:

It’s easy to go overboard on colour. Bypass the basic palette provided by PowerPoint that consists of very strong, saturated colours like fuchsia, bright turquoise and canary yellow. Instead, click on “more colours” under “custom tab” to choose viewer-friendly tints and shades. Soothing colors like blues, purples and greens are an excellent choice for backgrounds. Couple this with a warm colour such as yellow or orange for your diagrams and text, and your content will jump off the screen.

One of the biggest mistakes novices make is putting too much information on a single slide. Limit yourself to six words on a line and six lines on a slide, and save the detailed version of your text for a hardcopy handout. Most importantly, make sure your text is big enough to be read by everyone in your audience, including the people in the back row. Thirty-point text is a good starting point.

Choose a sans serif font such as Tahoma, Arial, Gills Sans or Helvetica. These are far more readable on screen than serif fonts like Times Roman or Palatino. Limit yourself to just one or two fonts, and use different sizes or bolding to create contrast. Don’t be tempted to use all caps for extra emphasis, as your audience will have more difficulty reading it.

When it comes to choosing a background, patterns are a no-no, as are cluttered designs. Remember that your backgrounds are there to support your content, not to steal the show. Opt for a single colour, or at most a simple gradient.

You can overdo graphics very easily, so make sure each image is there to convey a key message. “Accentuate, don’t decorate,” says Daoust. Likewise, gratuitous animations, transitions and sound effects will distract viewers from your message.

On a technical note, scan your image at 72 dpi if you’re going to use it on screen. Anything beyond that is unnecessary and simply adds to the size of your files. As well, crop your images before you import them into your presentation software to keep file sizes manageable.

Be consistent in how you present your information. Don’t center your text on one side and then use left justification on the next, or switch from round bullets to square bullets and back again. Also, make sure you leave plenty of space around your text and images so they have room to ‘breathe’.

The Last Word

According to Dan Pinnington, Director of practicePRO and all-around legal technology expert, it all comes down to planning, preparation and practice: “Plan the presentation, get all the bits and pieces together, make sure you understand how to use the technology, and practice – not just once, but a number of times.”

Never use technology you’re not comfortable with, advises Vancouver lawyer Micheal Slater, “because once it’s over your head and you make a mistake, you’ve lost control of what’s going on.”

Finally, if all these cautions leave you feeling nervous, remember that although computer presentations involve a few risks, the rewards can be substantial.

Additional Resources

Persuasive Computer Presentations: The Essential Guide for Lawyers
Learn how, when, and why to create eye-catching computer presentations that are heard, understood, and retained. 

Dennis Kennedy's Legal Technology Primer: Presentation Technology Lessons
Tips on improving your presentations and bringing the necessary technology into your practice.

PowerPoint for Court
Learn the secrets to cutting edge courtroom presentations in manual or CD format.

Law Office Computing: Graphics and Presentations
Presentation software reviews.

Preparing For Smooth Computer Presentations
Article on the importance of understanding the diverse dynamics that occur during the presentation process.

Top Ten Technology Tools for Lawyers (And Tips on How to Use Them)
Includes a great section on legal presentation tools (see p. 36)

Julie Stauffer is a freelance writer based in Guelph, Ontario.