University of Houston Law Center Logo

Alumni Spotlight

John Cleaves '92

UHLC alum's book teaches the art of graphics to tell courtroom stories 

John Cleaves '92

Oct. 7, 2016 - For the majority of his career John Cleaves has a knack for creating exhibits that are used in trials, and it's what has guided him through a nontraditional career in law.

Since 2007, the 1992 University of Houston Law Center alumnus has worked for Latham & Watkins in Los Angeles in a variety of roles. He currently manages the firm's trial support team. He spends most of his time creating demonstrative graphics, and collaborates with trial attorneys to develop the appropriate graphics for all aspects of the trial.

Cleaves' expertise is reflected in his new book, "Demonstratives: Making Effective Graphics for Trial," which was published by the National Institute of Trial Advocacy and released in June. He said he wrote the book with students and recent law school graduates in mind.

"If there's anything that an associate can do to make themselves stand out, they should pursue that because it's going to give them more opportunities at their firm," Cleaves said. "Knowing how to do something like creating demonstrative graphics -- it's a huge benefit to a young associate."

Cleaves said the process of writing and publishing the book took about two years. He completed his first draft after six months and received advice from colleagues, before successfully pitching it to the National Institute of Trial Advocacy.

"When NITA first agreed to publish it, I was excited," Cleaves said. "But then I found out there was much more work to do. I wasn't near the end of the process at all. I was closer to the beginning than the end and there was a lot of editing and revisions.

"I feel a lot of justification for the work that I put in. Of course I thought it was a very good book and I thought it was valuable information that law students and young associates would like to have, but I had no guarantees that it would get published."

Cleaves might not have discovered his talent if not for interacting with his classmates.

"Networking leads both overtly and covertly to what's going to happen in your career," Cleaves said. "When I graduated in 1992 there was a recession, so there were jobs for the top people in the class but for those of us in the middle of the class, jobs were harder to come by."

His classmate Brian Hendrix '92 started working with demonstrative graphics while still attending the Law Center. Unsatisfied with his practice, Cleaves turned to Hendrix early in his legal career for a change.  

"My stories would be about regular lawyer stuff and weren't very entertaining," Cleaves said. Paper would come in on my desk, and then I'd send it back down again. Brian on the other hand was talking about working with Anna Nicole Smith and creating graphics for her case or working on a case about Winnie-the-Pooh and creating graphics for that.

"His stories were way more entertaining than mine. It was very appealing, so I asked him if he had any jobs at his firm that I could do. He was kind enough to take me on and started showing me the ropes. Being friends with Brian from my class is what led me into what's been my entire career."

Click here for more information on John Cleaves' book, "Demonstratives: Making Effective Graphics for Trial."