The general rule in organizing statements presented to the jury is the same used by teachers with children: Tell them what you’re going to tell them; tell them; and then tell them what you’ve told them.
The trial format itself echoes this general rule:
- The opening statement is the first opportunity to “tell them what you’re going to tell them;”
- Through the evidence that comes in, you do “tell them;” and
- In the closing argument, you “tell them what you’ve told them.”
In addition, you should use the opening statement and the final argument as vehicles for repetition, more or less like this:
I will now discuss with you what the evidence will or did show in this case, and why we will ask you to find in favor of Joe Smith, my client; the evidence will be or was as follows, and that is why Joe Smith will be or is entitled to your verdict at the end of the case or today.
Remember, too, that if a juror hears a fact once, she believes that it’s possibly true; if she hears it twice, she figures it is probably true; but if she hears it a third time, then she can’t get it out of her mind.
It’s also the way that you say what you say, the particular words that you choose, that can make a difference. You want to tell a story and you want to do it in evocative language that exudes connotations favorable to, and mental images suggestive of, your theory of the case. And keep your language simple; you want the jurors to grasp the issues and not feel confused or intellectually inadequate.
It’s generally not a good idea to write out your opening statement or closing argument, because if you have a text, you may be tempted to read it. And if you read it, you have instantly lost most of your effectiveness. But using an outline listing each essential point and noting each important exhibit can be very helpful.
The traditional story begins with a time (“Once upon a time”), a place (“in the State of Kansas”), a cast of characters (“there was a girl named Dorothy, who lived with her Aunt and Uncle”), and a problem (“then there came a great tornado”). Eventually, after the story is told, there comes a resolution (“there’s no place like home”). The trial and both the opening and closing should follow this format and, ideally, conclude with a happy ending—a verdict in your favor.
Want more great tips on developing and presenting an effective story for the jury? Turn to CEB’s Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, chap 2.
Related CEB blog posts:
- The Key to a Persuasive Opening Statement: A Strong Outline
- What I Learned from Jury Duty About Opening Statements
- 5 More Creative Writing Techniques for Your Legal Briefs: Drafting a Story
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