Both the opening statement and the closing argument should be used to persuade. (No, it’s not all about direct and cross.) The adages about the importance of first impressions and last words are worth heeding.
Persuasion is the act or process of advising or urging a course of action. Here are four keys to being persuasive in your opening and closing:
- Show no fear. The most basic prerequisite of a persuasive opening or closing is that the attorney appear to have confidence both in the facts of the case and in his or her ability to present them. Fear of addressing a jury or judge can generally be overcome by work and preparation. If such fear can’t be overcome, the trier of fact won’t be persuaded.
- Make a play for emotions. Many words have been used to describe the emotional “chemistry” needed to persuade a group of people. Experienced trial lawyers use opening statements and closing arguments as instruments of rational persuasion on the evidence and the law. They also seek to affect the jurors’ emotions and prejudices because subjective impressions and beliefs are essential elements in obtaining jurors’ assent.
- Give a reason to do the right thing. Persuading jurors to agree with a particular view of a case requires building a successful relationship with them, and successful relationships depend on mutual exchange. Before jurors will give you something in return, like a verdict or judgment, they must receive something from you: a reason or basis to find for your position. The jury must have the feeling that it’s doing something right.
- Understand your jurors. Gaining an understanding of those you’re seeking to persuade is critical. The responses of jurors to the facts presented at trial are shaped by what has happened to them in the real world. You should view jurors as reasonable decision makers but know that their verdicts will be affected by likes, dislikes, and prejudices. If you’ve done your job during voir dire, you’ll begin a trial with jurors whom you have some sense of and whom you believe you can personally persuade to adopt your position.
Get proven techniques for compelling and effective opening statements and closing arguments from trial veterans in CEB’s newly-updated Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments. For advice on examining your jurors, turn to CEB’s Effective Direct and Cross Examination, chap 10.
Other CEBblog™ posts you may find useful:
- 5 Things to Do to Prepare for Voir Dire
- Don’t Dodge—Defuse: Use Your Opening Statement to Handle Problem Areas
- Make Your Opening and Closing Memorable: 4 Memorizing Tips
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