Moving Pictures: Video Wins In The War Of Words

Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but video has the potential to be worth millions – of dollars.

Attorneys are winning record-breaking settlements and awards for their clients by using video presentations to effectively communicate the most important — and perhaps least tangible — element of their case: loss.  When presenting damages, a well-executed video is simply the most powerful tool available to conclusively convey extent and consequence.

Be it corporate mediators, opposing counsel, insurance adjuster or jury, video places the “decision makers” directly inside the plaintiff’s situation, delivering an incisive perspective of the liable party’s negative impact upon your client. And by providing the most accurate assessment of what the damages are worth, better ensures against the unfortunate possibilities of slower settlements or disproportionate awards.

“A concise and compelling mediation video on damages eliminated all of the insurance company’s ‘wiggle room,’” says Gerald E. Agnew, of Torrance-based Agnew & Brusavich.

But before grabbing a camera to make your next presentation that much more compelling, consider the following five factors as your foundation for using video to express damages — both in and out of court.

Experience Counts
You should always retain experienced video and graphics professionals to construct and present your damages case. It’s understandable that at first glance creating a video assessment of damages might be a simple enough task for your highly capable deposition videographer. But beware the production pitfalls that come from the countless logistical and technical aspects involved; everything from unfamiliar locations, client schedules and budgeting, to unsteady camera movement, awkward lens angles, bad audio environments, poor lighting and distracting graphic designs.

And there’s a lot more to the job than meets the lens. A fully realized presentation is a complex, intensive and collaborative process best left to professionals well-versed in managing a production’s multiple facets — especially under tight time constraints.

In hiring a quality presentation firm, typically a team will be assigned to the video shoot and post-production that consists of a director, a cameraperson, and an editor. Having a director at the helm has several advantages, not the least of which is that it allows the cameraperson to focus specifically on their important task. From a managerial perspective, the director can establish reasonable budgets, assist in determining preliminary costs, provide professional production results and ensure timely delivery of the finished product. From a production standpoint, directors have a vision of the final project that they realize with the use of storyboarding, scripting, proper editing, and access to state-of-the-art video software. Through careful pre-planning, the director can assess whether a particular approach will be useful or wasteful, which can eliminate time- and cost-intensive issues such as unplanned, after-the-fact editing or reshoots. In short, a good director is able to solve a variety of issues such as lighting, logistics, space constraints, and knows best how to get particular shots or sensitive footage without manipulating the footage or disrupting the natural habitat.

Of course, the old axiom that it takes money to make money holds true when going outside your firm for professional presentation services. While there certainly are costs incurred with such outsourcing, having an experienced video and design group on board can practically pay for itself not only with their well-practiced and efficient methods and technical know-how, but with comprehensive products that result in greater monetary awards for your client.
That said, you shouldn’t avoid comparison shopping. In an increasingly competitive field it’s important to interview several firms to find the one that fits best. A reputable company will welcome your inspection of their work and readily provide a portfolio for your review. Confirm their reliability by checking references. And if time permits, schedule a meeting to discuss your case and assess their professionalism in person. Be willing to judge them. After all, the work they do for you will ultimately be judged — and be an integral factor in any judgment.

“The concise distillation of the facts into a compelling video led to a remarkable settlement,” said Dan Callahan of Callahan & Blaine in Santa Ana, regarding a recent case.

Survey Says!
So you’ve interviewed a number of firms, found the one you are looking for, and put the company to work on a pressing case. What’s their overall objective? It’s a wide-angled one called “surveying.” No, not in the form of a poll full of questions.

A still frame of a therapy session in progress on a “Day In The Life” video production.

In this instance, surveying means documenting your client’s physical environment and their every detail, much in the way civil engineers might examine and plot out a landscape’s topography. Like a topographical map, video presentations must clearly and accurately survey your client’s damages.  While surveying, it is therefore important for the video team to plan ahead and understand your client’s routine and restrictions in the filming environment, always with caution, concern, compassion and respect. This is all the better for the resulting video to reveal an authentic portrait of your client in a realistic context and environment to which viewers can readily identify and relate. In contrast, improvised, on-the-fly filming has the potential to become compositionally disjointed — all the worse in distancing and disconnecting the video’s audience.

To illustrate the detail involved, let’s look briefly at an important subset of the surveying equation: camera angles. It may seem insignificant, but a camera’s position can affect how strongly or weakly viewers will comprehend a particular scene. If the videographer utilizes a poor or incomplete camera angle to capture an aspect of your client’s diminished ability, the injury may be depicted incompletely. For example, let’s take a person struggling to get dressed, enter a vehicle, or even open a door.  Whatever your client is attempting to do will require an inclusive framing of the object to help viewers understand how your client is struggling. Leave it out of view and you let in a viewer’s ambiguity. But if the videotaping procedure properly surveys all aspects of the difficulty with what might be a mundane task to the audience, then the impact will resonate.

“A combination of photos, graphics and video created a very powerful statement, which greatly impacted both the jury and the defense”, said Donald S. Britt of The Crow Law Firm in Sacramento. “The result was a quick settlement of the case.”

Production Tips
The latest advances in digital technology have given attorneys an arsenal of multi-faceted presentation tools with which to deliver their clients’ stories. Depending on the type of project, attorneys can use video products in a variety of ways. Some of the more common video services are known as Day-in-the-Life, Site Inspection, Wrongful Death, Accident Recreation, and Settlement Documentaries.

Let’s look a bit more in depth at the Settlement Documentary. Considered one of the most powerful forms of video used for mediation purposes, Settlement Documentaries supply a dramatic cover story about your client’s life and injuries. Graphical or enhancing items that may not be available during trial, such as music, animations or interviews, may be incorporated into Settlement Documentaries used in the arbitration stage of your case. Such presentations are essentially your entire mediation argument presented in the form of a video brief.

Typically during creation, all video material is woven together with interviews of family members, friends and relatives who share their stories of your client’s past life and present loss, and ties together the elements of your case in presenting damages, causation and liability. Within a given video you can choose to incorporate deposition transcripts, video testimonies, and detailed expert reports.

The use of photos, home videos, memorabilia, and interviews are keys to establishing your client’s history. Gathering of such pre-injury material from your client and their family to include is extremely important. The selection of such foundation material along with the right interviews will allow the audience to better evaluate the subject with empathy for their situation.

A well-produced Settlement Documentary is clear, concise, and dramatic and helps the audience connect the liability “dots.” In most cases, it is better to keep it brief rather than overstress points. Your video’s director can assist with the proper techniques to trim down video, and it’s important to note that if certain materials aren’t included in the Settlement Documentary, they can always be addressed in the demand letter.

Conversely, there may be times when overwhelming your opponent may be beneficial and therefore a lengthy, “heavy” video containing most of the elements of your case is in order. While setting time and content limits may help avoid belaboring your story, exhausting the opposition with material in a settlement conference may show the other side how prepared and willing you really are to invest in the trial.

It is critical however to avoid over-producing your video presentation. When videos are embellished with overly dramatic music, professional voice-talent and elaborate camera work, they run the risk of looking fabricated. If too much attention is spent on aesthetics, and not enough on substance, that’s a message that may come through loud and clear to the audience, and it could be detrimental to your goals.

A poorly produced video can result from any number of causes. It may be too long or too short. It could contain unnecessary or unfavorable information, or it may be improperly targeted. When videos are produced for a specific target audience, how much of the story is introduced into the presentation can have a significant effect on opposing counsel.

Still frame of a hoist lift in progress on a “Day In The Life” video production.

So what exactly makes a good video presentation? Typically it will be well designed; utilizing structure and rhythm — much like the flow of music — to tell your client’s story. In some cases, sound or music may be included to add dimension and create smoother flow. This can make a significant difference in achieving a heartfelt and emotional quality to the piece without appearing forced or phony, but it’s a quality that can be difficult to accomplish without sensitivity to the layers of sound and the judicious selection of music to support the visual aspects unobtrusively.

Finally, selling an idea or a theory with video should be done with subtlety and transparency. Maintain a conservative approach with the visual elements to avoid distraction and always aim to keep the story on target. Witnesses should be the centerpiece and the work should present itself. When prepared under the proper conditions, the work will reflect that in value. Veer off target by focusing on a graphically driven story instead of a character-driven one, and you could lose your audience. When they take notice of the production style you’ve sacrifice the emotional quality and organic value of your product.

Multiple Uses
Attorneys have learned that damages videos have purpose beyond the negotiation and trial exhibit stages and are also putting them to use to gauge reactions as well as to discover potential witnesses prior to trial.

Take focus groups and mock trials as examples. In the latter they are used to observe the public’s reactions and their receptivity to the video.  And based upon reported statistics from focus groups, people favor settlement documentaries over oral discussions of events.  The video format has emerged as a comprehensive and comprehendible method of legal communication, simplifying information that can be processed quicker than traditional lecture means.

Another useful way to use settlement documentaries is by studying the recorded interviewees as a method of selecting witness candidates for trial. You may choose to consider or reject a prospective witness based upon their onscreen demeanor and communication style.

Whether on the screen or the stand, some witnesses convey a stronger presence than others which is frequently uncovered when they are on camera in a Settlement Documentary. Their stories are real and their impact will be felt by the jury.

In a recent interview, a severely emotionally injured man exclaimed, “After my accident, I’m like a freak!” These were the hardened words of a family man who fell victim to a devastating injury that crippled him both mentally, physically, and emotionally. The value presented on screen was powerful, and undoubtedly has an effect on an insurance adjustor, mediator, and a jury.

Stand & Deliver
How the viewer relates to your case will be based on how that message is presented.  A video presentation can sell its audience, or repel it. In the final stages of the showdown, it’s time to propose value and present your case with a knockout punch.

As elegant and luxurious a vehicle as a well-executed professional video presentation is, the engine that drives it is your client. By thoughtfully building the production with a noninvasive approach you can demonstrate to opposing counsel that you have the horsepower needed to drive your case to victory.
What makes your client so powerful is that ability to connect emotionally via the sensitive telling of their story. The visible emotions and struggles of your client and their loved ones, the nuances of people’s experiences, are best captured on video, which is becoming the most powerful form of expression and presentation in or out of court.

Relating your client to your audience by introducing patterns and behaviors in life with which all people can identify, can truly bring your case home. Using video to demonstrate your client’s limitations and weaknesses will humanize your case and bring a personal touch, whether it’s in the courtroom or conference room. It’s no secret that it can be difficult to get the raw emotions out of a client on the witness stand versus when they’re in a far more relaxed and informal setting. Many patterns of human behavior that occur in their home can’t be replicated during live courtroom testimony.

Can a court reporter’s transcription better capture the despair of a paraplegic father unable to reciprocate his daughter’s hug than video of that happening? Can witness stand testimony from a mother who has to assist her own adult son with tying shoes and putting on pants be more powerful than footage of that taking place in her home? Chronicling the limitations of the victims in their most vulnerable state provides indelible impressions otherwise unavailable with mere words. Furthermore, highlighting the contrast between an injured person and a healthy person is a strong measure of the clear and present damages. And the injuries don’t have to be catastrophic. A client with lesser trauma can also be documented using similar methods to demonstrate and connect with an audience. With the proper footage your demand becomes clear and very well supported.

Ultimately, when it all comes down to the decision it is the facts of the case that will determine its value, and video presentations can help you propose that value in a quicker, more compelling and comprehensive way.

During pre-trial negotiating stages, it has become the practice of some attorneys to include a settlement DVD with their demand package, wasting no time in giving the other side a realistic assessment of the case. When a mediator sees the true pain and suffering inflicted upon your client, your opponents may consider a quicker settlement with larger dollar amounts than you might get with just photos or briefs.  Often insurance companies will re-evaluate settlement offers after watching video settlement briefs because of their emotional pull. They understand the power of that exposure to a jury.

“In a war of words, while the experts and even the advocates may battle to a draw,” said, Edmund W. Clarke Jr., an attorney with Torrance-based Stark Rasak & Clarke until being appointed Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge in 2007 by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “the jury looks for something to trust.”

Video Documentaries may very well be that “something” that allows jurors to trust their own eyes.

In Summation
Applications for video presentations are growing in all form and manner of litigation. In courtrooms throughout the country video is increasingly sought out and brought in as a compelling and highly effective teaching tool. By including a professional video services organization on your legal team and incorporating video presentations into your case arsenal you are giving yourself a distinct advantage in helping decision makers award damages. The added depth and dimension provided by an insightful video presentation can facilitate a clearer and quicker understanding of the issues and experiences and the future your client faces — a future that very well could be augmented by an award or settlement likely to be more substantial than that won with just thousands of words and some static images.

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