It may not be news that PowerPoint is becoming more common in courtrooms today, but it is news when someone uses it exceptionally well. Attorney W. Mark Lanier presented his closing arguments Monday in a Vioxx trial in New Jersey, and the presentation generated extensive coverage by the Associated Press, New York Times, Reuters and the Wall Street Journal.
I had worked with Mark on another Vioxx trial last year, but this time we started completely from scratch and used the Beyond Bullet Points approach to craft a new visual-verbal story using PowerPoint. In the Texas trial, we had referred to the popular TV show CSI, but in subsequent trials the defense team had co-opted the reference. So this time, we chose a different TV-inspired theme to make the story accessible, memorable, and persuasive to the jurors. The result? Read what some of the journalists who were there had to say about the presentation:
John Curran (Associated Press Writer), "Closing Arguments offerred in Vioxx Trial," BusinessWeek Online, April 3, 2006:
"A jury hearing the case of two men who attribute their heart attacks to the painkiller Vioxx heard starkly different summaries of the evidence Monday, with a Merck & Co. lawyer defending its handling of the drug and a plaintiff’s attorney ripping the company as desperate and dishonest…In a fiery, 75-minute monologue accompanied by a slide show, Lanier seized on Jones’ statement from the start of the trial to jurors that they would be like detectives on the TV show ‘CSI,’ saying the show ‘Desperate Housewives’ offered a more fitting comparison. Calling the story of the Vioxx franchise ‘Desperate Executives,’ he showed a ‘Desperate Housewives’ graphic before substituting the heads of Merck executives in place of those of the series’ actresses, telling jurors Merck saw Vioxx as a potential sales dynamo that would help replace revenue lost when Pepcid and other Merck drugs came off patent."
Jeff May, New Jersey Star-Ledger, "Vioxx closing arguments feature CSI, Desperate Housewives," April 4, 2006:
"…plaintiff attorney Mark Lanier built his summation around an imaginary television show called ‘Desperate Executives,’ a retelling of the marketing of Vioxx and a takeoff on the ABC hit ‘Desperate Housewives.’ In a slick graphical presentation, broken up by real Vioxx commercials targeted to consumers, Lanier transposed images of the five Wisteria Lane stars with photos of former Merck Chief Executive Ray Gilmartin and four top sales and research executives from the company."
Jon Hurdle, Reuters, "Jury hears closing arguments in Vioxx trial," April 3, 2006:
"Lanier presented his closing to the jury in the form of a TV series he called ‘Desperate Executives,’ a play on the popular series ‘Desperate Housewives.’ Lanier’s series consisted of four episodes: ‘Shoot for the Moon’; ‘Trouble in Paradise’; ‘The Cover Up’; and ‘Game Over’."
Alex Berenson, New York Times, "Jury to Start Deliberation in Two Vioxx Injury Cases," April 3, 2006:
"Mr. Lanier brought his Texas twang, trademark humor and showmanship to his closing, telling the jury that the case should be called ‘Desperate Executives’, a corporate version of the television show ‘Desperate Housewives’."
Heather Won Tesoriero, Wall Street Journal, "Merck Vioxx Case Is Sent to Jury As Lawyers Give Final Arguments," April 4, 2006, pg. D.3:
"Making dueling references to television shows ‘CSI’ and ‘Desperate Housewives,’ lawyers on both sides of the Vioxx trial here presented closing arguments in the cases of two men who blame Merck & Co. for their heart attacks…[Lanier] told jurors that the case wasn’t like ‘CSI,’ but like ‘Desperate Housewives,’ referencing the popular television show. He showed a slide of the show’s logo in which he had replaced the main characters’ faces with those of Merck’s key Vioxx players and said Merck was a case of ‘Desperate Executives.’ ‘They deviated from what they should have done, started saying things to cover their trails,’ Mr. Lanier said. He told what he called ‘the Vioxx story’ in four episodes and argued the company’s need for profits prompted it to overlook patient safety.”
It’s interesting that AP writer John Curran used the phrase "starkly different", which is similar to the way that reporters described the presentations in the Texas trial last year. Both sides used the same tool – PowerPoint – to make their cases, but when one side decided to tap into the true power of the tool beyond bullet points, the results were, well, newsworthy.