Graphics Programs for Lawyers

An edited version of this article was originally published in Computer Counselor column of the December 1989 issue of the Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine.

Comments are generalizations and may not apply to every situation. It is advisable to consult with a competent professional before relying on any written commentary. Paul D. Supnik is a member of the State Bar of California and not of any other state or country. The material set forth herein is not for the purpose of soliciting any engagements where to do so would be to offend or violate the professional standards of any other state, country or bar. This web page Copyright 1989, 1996 by Paul D. Supnik

A graphics program makes and visually displays information in a readily understood form. It creates graphs, diagrams, illustrations, charts, and lists. The graphics created can be printed out on ordinary printers, can be transformed into color slides or overhead transparencies and can be blown up for courtroom presentations. Essentially, graphics programs allow you to develop easily understandable communications tools. Two programs will be discussed, "Draw Applause" from Ashton-Tate and "Harvard Graphics" from Software Publishing Corp., both of which have a suggested retail price of $495.

Graphics draw attention because displayed information is easily digestible. Reading three to five short phrases is far simpler than reading a single spaced typed page. Understanding is enhanced when phrases appear in clear bold typeface. Clarity is enhanced when information is shown in suitably distinguishable colors.

Background of Graphics Programs

The need for graphics programs arose from use of spreadsheet programs which display primarily tables of numerical information in a manner best appreciated by an accountant. Graphics features in some spreadsheet programs did not advance creating a need for a more sophisticated stand alone program. Separately developed graphics programs came on the market to better display spreadsheet information. Initially then, graphics programs then would display information in graph forms, typically, line and bar graphs and pie charts. Graphs are only one type of display now available from graphics programs.


Courtroom presentations

Demonstrative evidence is generally invaluable in a courtroom. The lawyers job is to persuade the trier of fact that his or her point view is the correct. Words often are expressed without full comprehension by the listener. Communication can readily occur by presenting images and graphics. Graphics, of course, are no stranger to the courtroom.

Graphics programs help prevent last minute trial exhibit preparation. Local rules are likely to require disclosure of charts to the opposition at an early date. What frequently happens is that counsel will tell opposing counsel that they expect to have a blowup or a graphical presentation available at the trial but not have one to show opposing counsel.

There are several reasons for delay in preparing graphical presentations. Blowups cost money to create, both in terms of material costs and lawyers time. Graphics usually take time to prepare. That time might be better allocated to other aspects of trial preparation. Indecision as to the precise form of exhibits may slow their creation. The desire to have the graphics display perfect may inhibit the final creation of courtroom blowups. Information to be shown on the blowups may be subject to change before the time of trial.

All these problems associated with courtroom graphics can be minimized by graphics programs. Cost of creation and modification is minimal since the program is available in the attorneys office. Charts and graphics can be readily created without the inhibiting factors of trekking off to an outside company where there might be little control over the result. If an outside service is preferred, the graphics program can still be used to create "rough drafts" of displays. It is simple to send actual computer files by telephone and modem, similar to a hookup with LEXIS or Westlaw, to a presentation graphics service company. The outside service, having greater experience in visually presenting information for the courtroom can enhance and improve the quality and style of presentation graphics.

In a pretrial stage, it is possible to submit a number of different versions of a chart with varying degrees of information which can be quickly created and modified. This allows creation of different versions, some of which may be more likely to be admissible and other which may be less likely to be admissible.

Drafts of the graphic images may be printed out on laser printers available in the law office. Color transparencies and overhead transparencies are available by sending the files by phone to service companies which can messenger them back to your office within a day. The draft images printed in the law office can be copied and used as handouts while color slides and transparencies can be available at the actual trial or other presentation.

Other Applications

One way to help settle cases is the thorough preparation of a settlement brochure. The settlement brochure explains liability and damages (or lack thereof) to opposing counsel and their client in a persuasive manner. The settlement brochure shows that you are sufficiently organized to go to trial and have the evidence available to back up your contentions. By including charts and graphs, you are better able to communicate the basic ideas of your case that you intend to convey to the trier of fact should you get to trial. Persuasion generally involves the communication of simple ideas. Important is that simple ideas be retained in the recipient's mind long enough for someone to act on them. Graphical images then can communicate important ideas likely to be remembered by the person whom you are trying to persuade, whether that be opposing counsel or a settlement conference judge.

In the law office, there is often a need to communicate how procedures to office personnel. A checklist for filing documents with various courts can be shown graphically with large bold print. The output printed by a laser printer can then be three hole punched and placed in a notebook of standard office procedures. Similarly, file organization can be graphically displayed and placed in the standard office procedures notebook.

A typical area in which graphics is helpful is in diagramming a complex case--whether that be the case you or an important precedent for your case. Graphics programs are generously loaded with boxes, circles and arrows, all mixable with a variety of styles of text, allowing you to quickly portray the case in a readily understandable manner.

Clients can more readily grasp complex situations when they are presented with graphic images. The graphics may be used to provide a foundation from which the client can supply additional information to the lawyer.

Specific Types of Graphics Available in Graphics Programs

Some graphics presentations simply include text. The manner and the typestyle in which the text is presented allows it to be a forceful communicator. Typical formats are single and multiple column lists. Subpoints can be preceded by a bullet, checkmark or other form of emphasis. Both the purpose of the charts and the limitations because of the inherent size of the text requires that the phrase entries be extremely brief. Most programs permit mixing text with graphical images. Thus, a bullet chart might have a logo or other symbol means of enhancing particular entries.

Given numbers to convey, for example, damage calculations are be readily translated to graphs and pie charts. Different types of graphs are available such as bar charts, stacked bar charts, line charts and time varying charts. Pie charts are often useful to quickly convey relative proportions. For example, a pie chart can show the flow of royalties from distribution of a product. Multiple linked pie charts can then show a segment of the pie appearing as the whole of a pie from which a further percentage is cut. Income and revenue sources are often displayed in pie chart format. Pie charts can be used to show sources of income and revenue from your office or show sources of income and revenue of a party to litigation.

The organization chart can be used in its traditional role to depict a hierarchy in a company or it can be used in other creative ways. In larger offices it might be used to display office procedures used in litigation. It can be used to display the causes of action in a lawsuit, and the elements required to prove each cause of action. That type of chart is useful, both as a guide in developing a case, in showing your cards to your opponent, in explaining the case to the settlement conference officer or the judge, and in appropriate circumstances possibly even to explain facts to a jury.

Flow charts can be used to map out complex financial and legal transactions, with text information within boxes, arrows to show the direction of transactions and text above the arrows to explain the transaction.

Harvard Graphics

Harvard Graphics is simple and adequately flexible to be very useful in a law office. Very little resort to the manual is required. The program uses cascaded menus and has extensive context sensitive help screens. In use, the opening menu selection of either the creation of a specific type of chart or free form drawing. The types of charts selectable include text, pie charts, bullet charts or graphs. With a chart type selected, you are then given additional selections as to the specific chart configuration. Given a chart configuration, a screen prompts you to enter information in a specific format. You are shown where to type in the subheadings, and a footnote. For graphs, you are shown where to enter numerical information and labels for the numerical information. Pressing function key 2 [F2] brings an image of the graph you have created on the screen.

You may change the attributes of virtually any portion of the image. The size of the text may be enlarged or reduced. The colors of particular portions of the chart may be changed. The type style or font may be changed, for example to italics or bold and from "Executive" to "Roman".

Any chart can be associated with text. Circles, ellipses, boxes, lines and arrows can be added to any chart already created, whether that be a pie chart, bullet chart, organization chart or graph. Lets assume you wish to diagram a case. You can use boxes or circles to represent parties, and arrows between boxes to represent transactions between parties. The boxes can be of varying thickness, color and style, as can the arrows. A time saving feature is an adjustable grid which is overlaid on the chart being created, yet which does not appear on the final printed chart. The grid simplifies chart creation and forces beginning and end points of various symbols and drawing elements, such as lines, boxes and circles to terminate on end points. Any drawing elements or text entered on the screen can be copied, moved, enlarged or reduced. A spell checker is included for help in correcting text.

Often the format of a completed chart can be used as a basis for a template for other charts. Existing chart formats can be saved as templates.

The output of Harvard Graphics may be displayed on a HP Laser printer. Various formats for the display are possible. The chart can be displayed in a draft format, in which the images are rough around the edges, or in a high resolution format. Older laser printers are generally not able to print out a full chart in high resolution format. Higher resolution format also takes a longer time to print out. While the draft mode is somewhat rough, it still provides a rather presentable chart. The chart can be printed out on many dot matrix printers. The quality of the dot matrix printer is less than desirable, but it does provide a workable, if not polished presentation image. If color is a concern and a color plotter is not available in the law office, the computer files can be sent to an outside service.

While not likely to be frequently used by a law office, "slide shows" are available in Harvard Graphics. A slide show is a series of charts each displayed for a limited time period on the computer. The first slide, for example might show a chart of income and expenditures during one month, followed by charts displayed five seconds later showing income for the next few months.

"Symbols" as that term is used in Harvard Graphics, are pictures which may be added to a chart. A library of illustrative pictures comes with the program and others are available separately for separate purchase. Symbols include people, industrial images, transportation vehicles, city and country maps, flow chart symbols, arrows, office equipment and other images. Images of your own choosing can be imported, assuming you have the knowledge to access and import those images.

The symbols may be directly overlaid on top of the chart being created, and sized and proportioned in any manner desired. Symbols add interest and sparkle to otherwise less interesting presentations of factual information. Symbols readily communicating information can direct the viewers thought in a particular direction. A symbol can also be used to identify and distinguish information readily. Thus all information related to a particular subject can be identified with a corresponding. An exceptionally simple communication program which comes with the Harvard Graphics program allows you to transmit the graphics files direct from your desk immediately by modem to order color slides, transparencies and color prints. The time it takes to set up the program is only a few minutes, and once an account is set up, it is a simple fast procedure to have it transferred by telephone.

Harvard Graphics is simple to use. Very little resort to the manual is required. The program uses cascaded menus and has an extensive context sensitive help screens.

Draw Applause

Draw applause is a full featured graphics program which requires a VGA or EGA color monitor. It is designed for use with a mouse or "puck and tablet" and is highly awkward to use without either of these devices. With a mouse, creating charts is simple and quick. The program takes up the full 640K of memory and the current version (1.1) does not work with expanded memory. Resident programs and programs such as DesqView or Software Carousel must be unloaded to use the program. It is sufficiently slow in repainting the screens so that a fast 286 or 386 type computer and fast video card is recommended if the program is used to any significant extent. Apart from these limitations, the program provides considerable flexibility in the development of charts, graphs, pictures and placement of objects on the screen. Tracing of objects is possible using the puck and tablet approach with the program. However, that is not likely to be a necessity in the law office.

Special features of the program include the ability to create a color background gradated from lightness to darkness from the top to the bottom of the image. Three dimensional and multiple image effects are possible. The program comes with a library of pictorial images. Characteristic of "Draw Applause" is the ability to create sharp brilliant colors on the screen. Ashton-Tate has its own processing facility, and it is possible here as well to send the images directly by modem and directly from the program, for quick delivery of finished color prints, color transparencies and color slides, as well as black and white thermal images.

In addition to boxes and circles, elements which can be drawn in include arcs, wedges and polygons. Dramatic effects can be created with features which permit creation of spirals, shadows, and gradated backgrounds. For any image placed on the screen, a mirror image can be made. The image can be stretched and rotated. A feature called "distribution" allows you to take a shape, distribute the shape from one position to another, where the shapes are repeated between the locations, changing the color, size, rotation and width of each of the distributed images. Groups of shapes can be linked together so they move as a group and can be reproduced elsewhere on the chart. A grid is available both as a guide in creating charts and for forcing elements of the chart into alignment. The grid can be either vertical, horizontal or both and can be adjusted for spacing both vertically and horizontally.

Variations in color is a strong feature of Draw Applause. Various palletes of colors can be readily selected and are available for view in the lower left hand corner of the screen as a chart is drawn.


In conclusion, graphics programs are likely to be used more often by lawyers because they are inexpensive, easy to use and create dramatically persuasive displays of information.