The Anatomy of a Good Opening Statement: 7 Winning Tips

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Who wants to hear a good story?

That is what jurors will hear when it’s time for opening statements. You might hear money; your client might hear an out of jail free card, but the person for which you are writing the opening statements will think “I hope this will be worth my time.”

The story you sell has to be good enough to convince the jurors that your version is better than the opposite’s narrative.

Without further ado, here are seven ways to deliver the winning story.

1. Stay Flexible

Everything is easy and nice when you’re the first attorney that delivers their opening statement. But when you’re the second, this is when things get tough, and you must prove your worth.

The first attorney has the power to create an anchoring effect and influence judges with their version of the story. They will present many incriminating facts, and you must be ready to address them and spin them in your favor.

So listen closely to what the other attorney is saying and take down notes. To counterattack the opposite’s side arguments, mention the facts that you can support with evidence or try to dismount the premises made. However, don’t let the opening statement of the other attorney influence yours too much; stick to your structure, and be flexible enough to answer to challenges.

2. Forget the “Beyond A Reasonable Doubt” Concept

Naturally, jurors will try to be as objective as possible and take into consideration every single aspect. They will even try to understand as much as possible – but the way the human brain works is going to make it difficult for them to accomplish that.

Decisions are made at a subconscious level and are mostly influenced by the negative facts. So defense attorneys should not try to dismiss the case of the opposing counsel in a superficial and over-confident way. Don’t assume simply jurors have a “lie detector” when it comes to the unimportant or not plausible information.

3. Don’t Be Shy about Exhibits

Seeing has a greater impact than hearing, so exhibits during opening statements can carry a great impact on the juror’s decision. To display exhibits that will positively influence the juror’s impression, make sure that it is not prejudicial, that it is relevant and that the jurors will admit it in the Court. The elegant thing to do is let the opposing counsel and judge know that you will use exhibits.

4. Make Sure You Know Some Storytelling Fundamentals

You must be able to deliver your opening statement to jurors as if you would tell it to a friend. That way, you can establish a familiar connection with them.

Facts will most likely bore them, so try to knit a compelling description of the events. Also, your story must be chronological since it is easier to follow this way. Ultimately, don’t drag the story out for too long – your opening statement shouldn’t be longer than 15 minutes if you wish to keep the jurors hooked.

5. Stick To One Theme

If you are the prosecution, then settle a series of values like the sanctity of home or freedom of speech, and use them throughout the trial. If you are the criminal attorney San Diego, then wait to see what the prosecution presents first to plan your strategy. Also, don’t make the mistake of trying to present two alternative positions “just in case,” because jurors won’t buy it.

An efficient opening must hook the jurors from the first paragraph because you will return to the idea stated there every single time, even at the end of the statement.

6. Don’t Bomb Them With Names

You might indeed have a long list of witnesses, and all might be important, but if you start telling all their names, jurors won’t be able to follow. That is especially true if the witnesses aren’t very relevant to the case. Not telling all the names of the witnesses you have in mind might come in handy later on, if you reconsider some of them at some point.

7. Don’t Stretch Too Much

It might be tempting to start promising things during opening statements, but you are taking a big risk by doing so. If you can’t keep your promise, your credibility will be shredded to pieces. You are free to promise something that you are sure of, however.

How do you prefer to structure your opening statements? Do you have other tips? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

March 15, 2016 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
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