Opening statements
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Opening Statements. Importance of Opening Statements. First time the judge/jury will see the attorney. A good first impression is IMPORTANT! You will let the jury know what evidence you will present & what it is supposed to prove.

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Opening Statements

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Opening statements

Opening Statements


Importance of opening statements

Importance of Opening Statements

  • First time the judge/jury will see the attorney.

    • A good first impression is IMPORTANT!

  • You will let the jury know what evidence you will present & what it is supposed to prove.

  • Helps in persuading the jury to view the evidence through YOUR framework.

    • Whichever framework the jury adopts is the light that they will process the evidence through!

    • If you can get the jury to see the case from your perspective they will be more likely to remember evidence that fits into that framework. This is a major victory!


Basic information

Basic information

You cannot talk about any evidence in your opening statement that you do not have a reasonable expectation of presenting during the trial.

You cannot discuss any evidence in your closing that was not presented during the trial.

The opening and closing are NOT considered evidence.

Opening = preview of evidence you plan to show.

Closing = argument about the evidence you have already presented.


Features of a persuasive opening statement

Features of a Persuasive Opening Statement

  • Present a clear theory of the case.

    • This is your no nonsense understanding of exactly what happened.

  • Present a clear theme of the case

    • Should provide the jury with the factual framework & emotional undercurrent of the case.

    • Should be short and concise.

    • Advanced technique: think of a short phrase or sentence that jurors can use to answer the question “what kind of case are you sitting on?”

      • Example: “This case is about a company who polluted our water just to make more profits” (for a case about toxic dumping).


Features of a persuasive opening statement1

Features of a Persuasive Opening Statement

  • Persuasive openings are well organized.

    • The theory of the case is reinforced by the content of the presentation & manner in which it is made.

    • Consideration must be given to the placement of key information.

      • Remember: Evidence is remembered best when it is encountered FIRST or LAST. Info from the middle will be the least remembered.


Features of a persuasive opening statement2

Features of a Persuasive Opening Statement

  • Effective opening statements take advantage of persuasive techniques such as rhetorical questions and inoculation strategies.

    • Rhetorical Questions: Asking the jurors questions that make them search for answers, and in some cases, implying answers on their own.

      • For a strong case: Good to present them near the beginning of a statement because the answers will be forthcoming.

      • For a weak case: They will not be helpful near the beginning of a statement because the answers will not be forthcoming. Can be useful near the end of the statement to point out weaknesses in the other side’s case.

    • Inoculation Strategies: Increases the resistance to persuasion.

      • Like a vaccine: Expose the jury to a weakened version of the other side’s argument. Then successfully refute those arguments. Make the jurors aware of the counterarguments! When those arguments are later raised, jury is more able to resist them.


Features of a persuasive opening statement3

Features of a Persuasive Opening Statement

  • A good opening statement lets the jury see the events through your clients eyes.

    • Recreate the event in such a way that the juror can see themselves as part of it. Allows for greater empathy for your client. You cannot ASK them to “put yourself in they party’s shoes,” however, a good opening statement will put the jury there if it effectively walks them through the case.

  • You cannot ignore problems in your client’s case.

    • Damaging evidence must be anticipated & discussed. The “sting” of the evidence can be removed by presenting it in the best possible light. Also makes the attorney look more honest to the jury.


Features of a persuasive opening statement4

Features of a Persuasive Opening Statement

  • Call into question the credibility of critical opposing witnesses when possible.

    • Knowing in advance that there are credibility problems strengthens the listener’s resistance to persuasion, lessening that witnesses effectiveness.

  • Take advantage of the fact that jurors MUST understand key legal standards and terms before they can view the case to properly integrate information.

    • Discuss key terms briefly in a way the jury can understand.

    • Non-critical legal terms, procedures, or long winded explanations detract from persuasiveness.


Features of a persuasive opening statement5

Features of a Persuasive Opening Statement

  • Present with confidence

    • Language should be powerful and direct. Choice of words and phrases is important. Words used to describe people, objects, or events that can be taken in more than one way – will be, and may create the wrong image in the mind of the juror.

    • You want to choose words that produce the most favorable psychological impact.

  • Attention level of jurors is at its highest point during opening statements.

    • Do not shortchange this presentation.

  • See handout on recommendations 


Opening statement example

Opening Statement Example


Questions to consider

Questions to consider.

What was the lawyers framework/theory of the case? What was her theme?

Was the statement well organized? What do you most remember about what she told you?

Did she effectively use rhetorical statements? Did she effectively inoculate the jury against the other side’s case?

Were you able to put yourself in her client’s shoes? How? What did she do right or wrong?

What problems do you think the other side is going to point out? How did she nullify those problems?

Did she discuss the credibility of witnesses?

Did she do a good job of clearly and simply defining legal terminology?

What she confident & thorough?

What about her opening statement stood out to you as useful?


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