Lawyers who regularly try cases will tell you that persuasion is used in the opening and finesse is used in the closing. Actually, the finesse involved in refining and structuring the evidence in the closing argument also persuades the jury. Here are some practical tips to being a strong closer at trial.
Closing argument gives counsel the opportunity to
- restate the primary issues of the trial,
- summarize the evidence from the client’s perspective, and
- explain the law on which the jury’s decision must be based.
The ideal closing argument is simple, clear, and presented with confidence. At the beginning of your closing argument, outline the major issues of the case and briefly explain the law as it relates to the events giving rise to the trial, including the burden of proof. Because the judge will instruct the jurors to base their verdict on only the evidence presented during trial, you need to explain to the jury that “evidence” refers to facts brought out in the witnesses’ testimony and in the documents, records, exhibits, and objects shown at trial.
Reconstructing the facts on which your case is based can have a tremendous impact on the jury, especially if you emphasize the significance of the events for those involved.
Here are three practical tips for your closing:
- Use vivid language. Vivid language will help the jurors imagine your client’s emotions during the events giving rise to the trial. Instead of blandly stating that your client lost the use of her legs in an accident, describe the events in story form: “Mary Hall drove to the park that sunny afternoon for a bicycle ride with her friends, hoping to experience the beauty of the outdoors. As Mary rode her rented bicycle down the slope in that serene and awe-inspiring place, the brakes failed, and she plunged over a cliff. Her life changed forever when her head struck the branch of a tree. She lay there unconscious, broken, never to walk again.”
- Review key evidence. Describe the essential points made by witnesses during examination and cross-examination. Remind jurors of the meaning and significance of the documentary and demonstrative evidence presented during the trial. Listing key facts on a blackboard or pad may be useful for emphasis. Plaintiff’s counsel should also explain the damages suffered by the client as a result of the events giving rise to the trial.
- Focus on your position. Only a little time is usually required to refute opposing counsel’s position. It’s better to concentrate on your side of the story to persuade the jury to adopt your client’s view of the evidence.
Closing argument is the single most valuable opportunity for the lawyer to communicate directly with the jury. Throw away the scholarly pages, look the jurors in the eye, and speak directly to them. Sincerity and clarity are very important. Never read the argument; rather, memorize the opening and closing lines of the argument and let the rest flow, directed by key words and notations.
For everything you need to make your closing argument the best it can be, turn to CEB’s Persuasive Opening Statements & Closing Arguments and California Trial Practice: Civil Procedure During Trial, chap 19. Also check out CEB’s program, Effective Opening Statements and Closing Arguments As Taught By California’s Top Trial Attorneys, available On Demand.
Related CEB blog posts:
- What I Learned from Jury Duty About Closing Arguments
- The Key to a Persuasive Opening Statement: A Strong Outline
- You Can’t Win If the Jury Doesn’t Understand Your Case: 6 Ways to Better Communicate with the Jury
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