September 18, 2013 Articles

Opening Statements: Tips for Effectiveness in 15 Minutes or Less

Movies may be more instructive than you realize.

By William F. Sullivan and Adam M. Reich

Remember kindergarten, when your teacher would invite you to sit in a circle for story time? Can you picture how mesmerized you were no matter how short the story? Fast-forward and think about a movie that you recently watched that involved a trial. Chances are you were equally captivated and the script did not have long opening statements. Remember these thoughts when you prepare to deliver an opening statement, as the key to an effective opening statement is to be a superlative storyteller in 15 minutes or less.

Many lawyers overlook this truth. They begin opening statements with commonly bad phrases such as “good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the jury”; “first and foremost, thank you for your service”; and “please allow me to introduce you to my client.” They drone on and on and become mired in minutiae in a valueless attempt to explain every detail of their case. They employ unnecessary adverbs and haphazardly make bold promises. Such strategies do not create a remarkable first impression, let alone a lasting one.

How exactly should you begin your opening statement? And how should your opening statement continue through its conclusion? There is no set piece that will work for every trial. If there were, legal practice would be boring and trial outcomes would be predictable. However, there are guidelines that lawyers should adhere to.

Premium Content For:
  • Litigation Section
Join - Now