Visual aids are rarely good at appellate oral arguments — that’s the conventional wisdom among experienced appellate lawyers. Such aids are often used in ways that just distract from the flow of the argument, and sometimes they’re just hard for the judges to read. I was involved in an argument once where one of the lawyers presented a large and busy display mounted on an easel, only to learn from judges toward the end of the argument that they could barely see the text to which he was referring.
But when I argued at the Georgia Supreme Court a few years ago, I learned from my local counsel, Darren Summerville, that the justices encouraged such visuals. Many cases, the theory went, turn on text from contracts, court documents, statutes and regulations, or often even on photographs. The courtroom is equipped with Elmo Visual Presenters, which let lawyers easily show material to the judges. Rather than just pointing judges to passages in the briefs, the theory goes, it’s better to show them that material directly. And the lawyer who shared time with me indeed used the visuals very effectively, to show various images that were at issue in the case and to explain why the other side wasn’t correctly characterizing them.
My question: Are there other appellate courts besides the Georgia Supreme Court that encourage the use of visual aids, or at least have a culture in which such use is common and effective? Please post your answers below, or, if you prefer, email them to me at email@example.com. And if you have more general thoughts about effective and ineffective use of visual aids in appellate argument, please post them as well. (Note that I’m focusing here on appellate arguments, not trials or trial court motions.)