What do the best lawyers and professors have in common?

What do the best lawyers and professors have in common? They’re expert communicators.

My education and degrees include a Doctorate of Philosophy in Technology (a PhD in Technology) and an expected Doctor of Jurisprudence in the law (a JD) next year.

The profession that has recently shown me the most enthusiasm regarding this combination is the legal profession.

But I am drawing upon my experiences as a professor when I have written for legal outlets about spotting manipulation of digital photographs, audio recording by patients of their medical visits, and the overall need for workshops aimed at advancing lawyers’ software skills.

What I have also realized is that the common thread between what the best litigators do and what the best teachers do is efficiently and effectively communicate to their audience. The lawyers communicate to the jury (or judge, in the case of a bench trial). Professors communicate/teach to their students.

And I teach my students about visual communication. I communicate about communication! My students learn how to make logos, manipulate images, create newsletters.. basic graphic design. I have even begun to teach about 3d printing! Simply put, I teach how to create visual things because we communicate with visual symbols.

Now lawyers are undoubtedly trained in the art of written communication. But they need to be able to communicate to a jury, which is comprised of the general public. And, unlike lawyers, the general public prefers to learn visually, so they mainly want to see evidence rather than hear it.

This has led to the surge in the use of trial evidence of photographs, videos, audio recordings, etc. Given the abundance of visual images posted online, or captured by smart phones, lawyers need to become tech-savvy if they are not using communication technologies already. But I am not throwing shade or pointing fingers at anyone… heck, two years ago, it was revealed that the SCOTUS judges are not that technologically sophisticated. But technological competence is really a skill set that needs to be developed and can be through simple use of the devices and websites. (And if you don’t know how to work a device, give it to a toddler. Seriously, my 2-year old daughter can work my iPhone. And that kind-of terrifies me.)

Lawyers also need to learn how to capture digital evidence, optimize it for presentation in either a printout or a digital projection in front of jurors, or they need to hire people that have these skills (Lawyers, I’d like you to meet graphic designers. Graphic designers, I’d like you to meet lawyers).

Other than the fact that jurors are visual learners, why is using a photograph, or audio recording, or video, so powerful? Because it is hard evidence. It is not someone telling you something; the lawyer is not just telling the jurors, “This is how I think you should rule,” and arguing their side. The lawyer is presenting an audio recording on top of this “I-think-you-should-rule-this-way” method, which allows the jurors to better make up their own minds.

For example, audio recordings have not only the spoken words, but the speed at which the words are said, the tone/volume/pitch, etc. that are communication signals to better convey the true intention of the speaker.

Photos and videos are so powerful at present… Just look at the reactions that happen when they are posted online. The numerous postings of police/public confrontations, like posting a video online, has led to serious offline actions.

So back to the juror, a member of the general public…they will be empowered to draw their own conclusions at trial based on what they see or hear when they see a photograph, when they hear a recording, or when they see and hear content presented in a video. Wouldn’t that make their decision much stronger?

That’s the intersection of law and technology that excites me. Because it is about communication. And I teach about one very powerful type of communication.

Sara Kubik