Getting Started


Image credit: Brandon Kopp

I just listened to Joe Biden speak about embarking on a new chapter of the American Story– a story of hope, unity, light, decency, love, and greatness. It’s an uplifting message to be sure, but I found myself wondering how it applies to my work on behalf of clients facing a dark chapter of their lives. People whose lives have been shattered by injury or violence. People who have been falsely accused of trumped up charges. People who are seeking justice in a country that, despite recent political turmoil, is still governed by a constitution.

Ten years ago, when Fat Pencil first started creating visual stories for court cases, I thought our work would mostly be used in trial, for an opening or closing argument. I was wrong. I learned that from the first moment an attorney takes a case, they have to discover their client’s story and then retell it hundreds of times over the ensuing months… sometimes years. Now I know that the most valuable work that Fat Pencil Studio does is at the beginning, as we are getting started. We listen with a fresh set of ears. We distill complex facts into a simpler narrative. We focus on the issues that are unforgettable.

Creating visuals for a case is an iterative process. The narrative becomes more compelling with each revision, and we often discover elements of the story that no one expected. Doing this work at the beginning of a case sets the stage for outcomes that might never have been possible with a “wait until trial” approach. We’ve seen charges dropped in criminal cases, and civil settlements reached before a lawsuit is even filed.

Visual stories have the power to help others see another person’s perspective– or quoting Biden again, to stand in their shoes. Herein lies the answer to my wondering. If our work can help an audience understand another point of view, there’s a chance of reaching the best possible solution in a bad set of circumstances. That chance is enough to inspire me to get started on the best work of my career.


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio