On December 3, 2010, I attended the ABOTA Masters in Trial Seminar. The purpose of this seminar was to provide attorneys with different strategies for opening and closing statements at trial. However, I think that non-lawyers might find this interesting as well. It is a window into the thoughts of a trial attorney.
Ten different practitioners, who are considered the best in the business, gave an opening or closing statement that they gave at a previous trial. In one instance, one practitioner gave an opening statement that he plans to use at an upcoming trial. I thought that took some guts… to give an opening statement in front of a room of your peers for a matter that is not decided. Every other attorney gave a statement from a case where they knew the result, in most cases it was their signature victory.
I must admit that each of the practitioners were very good and it gave me some new ideas as to style and approaching a jury. However, each of the practitioners confirmed three key beliefs that I have when prosecuting or defending a case:
1. Be prepared. Get your facts and law together prior to trial. Do not approach a jury based on sympathy. The jury as a whole will be insulted. Approach the jury with facts and law.
2. Be credible. Be prepared to conceded bad facts/circumstances to a jury. Do not allow the jury to hear the bad facts/circumstances from your opponent. If you deliver the bad news to the jury, the jury will find you more credible than your opponent.
3. Look at the matter through the eyes of your client. If you do not put yourself in the shoes of your client, the jury will never be able to connect with your client. Ultimately, the jury has to understand your client’s point of view.
As good as I thought these attorneys were in delivering their respective opening and closing statement, I couldn’t help but think, that I would love the opportunity to oppose any one of the attorneys. Either as a plaintiff or a defendant. The MC referred to these attorneys as the New York Yankees of attorneys. What better way to prove my abilities as an attorney than to defeat one of them in trial. This may sound arrogant, but you need a little swagger to be a trial attorney.