Litigation Strategy Trial Strategy

5 Tips for Crafting a Clear Opening Statement or Closing Argument

Clarity is key. To be persuasive, the meaning of opening statements and closing arguments must be clear to the jury. Here are five tips for attaining clarity, with illustrative examples for each.

1. Invoke commonality. One way to communicate clearly with the jury is to refer to commonly shared experiences. Consider the following statements, which have been used effectively to introduce legal issues:

We all vote and somehow we wonder if our vote ever gets counted. I don’t think, unless some of you are lucky enough to be elected a state representative or something, you will ever vote on anything so significant in your life.

We have the right to assume safety and not danger when we use business facilities, particularly when we’ve paid to get in.

2. Pare down to essentials. Economy of expression is intrinsic to clarity. An effective model of style to follow is one that presents the bare facts early in the opening. The following sentences, unadorned by peripheral elements, illustrate such economy:

The trouble began when Ida and Phil Pearce purchased what they called a vacation home in Idyllwild in April of 2007.

They camped right on the river in designated campsites. Then they got into the river, and within 20 to 30 minutes or so, Norman was a quadriplegic.

Those sentences also illustrate the natural alliance of clarity and economy of expression with a narrative approach: using a straightforward declarative statement with events structured to show how and when they occurred.

3. Use simple sentence structure. Particularly when an idea doesn’t lend itself to narrative presentation, you can often achieve clarity and economy by using the simplest sentence patterns, i.e., a single clause, in the active voice:

The issue here is malice.

4. Impose order. The complexity of some cases might seem to defy the goal of economy and thus undermine clarity, but there are ways to retain clarity in presenting even the most labyrinthine set of facts and issues. One way is the put the facts and issues in some order; stress internal order when the facts aren’t amenable to chronological presentation. First, tell the jurors about the need to order the topics to be presented:

I would like to tell you, in summary form, what that evidence is so you can more readily understand it going in, and then go into more detail a bit later.

Giving appropriate background material can also help to achieve order and promote clarity:

Let me just tell you a bit about what the evidence is going to disclose about the International Football League. The International Football League was founded in 1920. The league is 67 years old and the families who originally owned the teams in the league still do.

5. Cue the ending. Language indicating that a line of argument is ending can also enhance clarity, as can transitional language showing that a new topic is about to be discussed:

I could go on with countless other examples, but I believe the point has been made.

Next, I would like to discuss the subject of damages.

Get more expert guidance on preparing and presenting your statements and arguments in CEB’s Persuasive Opening Statements and Closing Arguments, chap 2. And don’t miss the opportunity to learn from top trial attorneys in CEB’s program Persuasive Opening Statements & Closing Arguments, available On Demand.

Other CEBblog™ you may find useful:

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