July 15, 2016 Articles

Construction 101: Opening Statements

Studies have shown that trials are sometimes won and lost just through the opening statement. Here are some tips for presenting them effectively

by Stephen Skoller

The opening statement is the opportunity for the attorney to tell the jury what the cause of action is about, what evidence the jury will hear, and the client’s side of the story. In an ideal opening statement, the attorney will paint a picture of the case for the jury so that when the jury hears the evidence, it can place the various pieces of evidence in the relevant parts of the story.

The opening statement is not the appropriate time to argue your case—rather, it is a time to present the facts in the most favorable light. The recitation of facts may be slanted in favor of one party, of course, but it must remain truthful. Although jurisdictions and judges vary in how much argument they will allow in an opening statement, most jurisdictions do not allow much argument or discussion of law during the opening statement.

Most opening statements take between 10 and 45 minutes, although, depending on the complexity of the case, some may take longer. Some jurisdictions have developed rules for how long opening statements, as well as closing statements, may be. Other jurisdictions leave such time limitations to the judge’s discretion. Be sure to check the local rules or the judge’s practices. It can be quite embarrassing, as well as damaging to your credibility with the jury, to have the judge limit your opening statement because you are taking too much time or are unnecessarily arguing the law?

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