Two previous columns discussed visuals as valuable tools for persuasion in briefs and how brief writers could overcome obstacles to using visuals. This month I offer some practical tips for using visuals and some simple ideas for creating them.
Two experienced practitioners-turned-legal-writing professors have written an excellent article full of good advice: “Art”-iculating the Analysis: Systemizing the Decision to Use Visuals as Legal Reasoning, by Steve Johansen and Ruth Anne Robbins. They helpfully divide visuals into three categories: Organizational visuals such as bullet lists, timelines, and tables—even the Table of Contents; interpretive visuals such as flow charts, pie charts, and Venn diagrams; and representative visuals such as images and maps. They then ask writers to imagine the legal argument visually and identify what type of visual would aid the reasoning.
Once you’ve decided to use a visual, Johansen and Robbins say it’s worth assessing where the visual falls on a “usefulness” continuum. On one end are merely decorative visuals—eye-catching but with limited connection to the substance. On the other end are visuals that present content connected to the facts or law. Nix purely decorative visuals; visuals that contribute to the substance go in. I also recommend this article: Adam L. Rosman: Visualizing the Law: Using Charts, Diagrams, and Other Images to Improve Legal Briefs.
Some simple examples of graphics
Last month I mentioned two reasons that some brief writers don’t use visuals: creating them can be difficult and time-consuming. So let’s start simple. Here are two ways to use one type of visual—images—in briefs, as recommended by respondents to my survey:
- I mostly use screenshots of the contractual or other language I’m interpreting.
- Many of mine are labeled photos—essentially, evidentiary documents but placed in the body text rather than in an appendix.
If using an image strengthens your case, do it.
Using a table is another way to start trying visuals, and tables are simple to create.
For example, you might display the defendant’s corporate officers in a two-column table. The information is more quickly and easily grasped than if it were conveyed in textual format—especially if the list is long.
Text: The corporation’s officers were as follows: The president was Chris Smith, the Vice President was Cory Chung, and the Secretary was Jamie Acosta.
Visual: The corporation’s officers were as follows:
In an administrative-hearing brief, one writer needed to apply a 12-factor test to a nurse’s conduct. A two-column table worked well, with the factors described in the left-column cells and the analysis provided in the corresponding right-column cells. It’s a good example of a visual that makes digesting the analysis easier when compared to a traditional-text format.
The following table appeared in a response to a plaintiff’s motion to consolidate. It was the writer’s attempt to emphasize that although the same party owned the apartment-complex phases at issue, the buildings, subcontractors, and materials differed, and the two cases would not rely on the same evidence.
Once you’ve mastered basic tables, a timeline is a good challenge. Here’s a basic example:
I hope these examples give you some ideas. Ultimately, it’s up to you to consider the facts and analysis and decide if a visual is right for your brief. Think creatively, get some help, improve your skills, and recognize that judges are favorably disposed to visuals. Then try it.
 Steve Johansen & Ruth Anne Robbins, Art-iculating the Analysis: Systemizing the Decision to Use Visuals as Legal Reasoning, 20 J. of the Leg. Writing Inst. 57 (2015)..
 Id. at 67.
 Id. at 69.
 Adam L. Rosman, Visualizing the Law: Using Charts, Diagrams, and Other Images to Improve Legal Briefs, 63 J. Leg. Educ. 70 (Aug. 2013).