We are all Visual Learners


Over the past ten years, I’ve grown accustomed to spending the second weekend of August in Central Oregon for the OTLA Convention. This year the event was held as a virtual Zoomvention, which wasn’t as great for socializing, but did allow for an all-star educational program, attracting speakers from all over the country… and this year it seemed like everyone was talking about visual stories.

The conference kicked off with a presentation called “Discovering the Most Compelling Story” with Kristeen Hand and Emily Rankin of the Spence Law Firm in Jackson, WY. Kristeen and Emily spoke about themes such as “the reluctant hero” as shown in movie clips from Tombstone and The Hunger Games. They touched on themes of catastrophic injury and death with clips from Remember the Titans and Up. They encouraged OTLA members to think like a director, and consider how each scene can present a critical aspect of their case. “When brainstorming the story of a case, think about what scene do you want to see… what does it really look like?”

Immediately following their presentation, I had an opportunity to share some of Fat Pencil’s work, and I chose one the first cases I ever worked on for an OTLA member. The 3d modeling process we used to visualize the collision also made it possible to understand why one eyewitness reported a different version of the events than all others on scene. This turned out to be a valuable piece of the narrative used to settle the case.

The following day of the convention, another standout presentation was delivered by Deborah Chang of Athea Trial Lawyers in Los Angeles, CA. Deborah inspired the title of this article as she explained how a combination of visuals (and music) creates a powerful narrative. She often creates short movies for mediation and trial, and they have helped her achieve big verdicts. (The Michael Jackson wrongful death case was one example she shared)

With so many hearings and mediations now being conducted via Zoom, Fat Pencil Studio is developing more case summary presentations, using slide decks, video compilations, and even dedicated web sites. Here is an anonymized version of one such project: a web site designed to help negotiate a settlement in a case where two teenage girls were hit by a car while walking in a marked crossing.

Packaging the story and settlement demand into an easily sharable format helps control the narrative of a mediation and increase your negotiating power. However, it’s the process of developing the visual story that makes an early settlement possible, and that’s where the real value lies. Creating the graphics leads to discovery of the essential elements of a story, which in turn helps others see what you know to be true.

Title image: "Person Drawing," by Sarah Dietz via Pexels


Joshua Cohen is a Principal at Fat Pencil Studio