Most cases are either won or lost after the opening statement. The opening statement may very well be the most single important part in the trial of a lawsuit. Perhaps the reason for this is that first impressions tend to be lasting impressions. At no other time are the jurors most attentive and receptive to know about your case. Yet on the other hand, it may also be the most overlooked and at least organized aspect of the trial. Because of the importance of the opening statement, it is imperative that you organize and prepare and outline of your opening statement.
The purpose of an opening statement is to tell the jury about the facts of your case. It is a preview or an overview of what you intend to prove and how you intend to prove it. The opening statement should serve as a guide or an outline of the evidence to be presented. It is the proverbial “roadmap” to your case.
To be effective, the opening statement should be told as a simple story or a forceful narrative. It should be brief, absolutely clear, concise, direct and explained in plain layman language.
The opening statement might be given in either chronological sequence or by a topical outline manner stressing the important key facts to be proved. It should be a strong positive statement of the specific facts and particular details of your case. Where it is appropriate to use visual aids (diagrams, charts, blackboard) by all means use them. But before using such visual aids, clear it with the trial judge.
Tell the jury about any problems or weaknesses you have with your case rather than to have them unveiled during the trial. Your voice should be will modulated and conversational in tone. You should maintain good eye contact with the jury and present a relaxed and friendly attitude. Be firm and persuasive using short and simple action words. Verbalize your opening statement in the present tense using primarily nouns and verbs and the active voice rather than the passive.
Personalize your client’s story stressing key words for dramatic impact as to the highlights in the trial. Try to avoid the following common errors in the opening statement:
- To argue your case;
- To exaggerate or overstate your case;
- To promise what you can’t prove;
- To use detailed notes or even worse, to read a written opening statement;
- To tell a disoriented and unorganized story;
- To be too brief with the facts or too long with unending details;
- To talk in ambiguous and vague generalities rather than in concrete details;
- To be too overconfident or to lack conviction in the rightness of your case;
- To use technical language or “legal” jargon; and
- To discuss the law of your case.
The measure of a truly successful opening statement is whether, after hearing it, the jury clearly understands the facts in your case and would render a favorable verdict for your client without going any further with the trial process. Above all, it must be believable and simple.