If you’ve ever seen a movie or television show with a storyline that involved a big trial in a buzzing courtroom, chances are there was a scene that included some pretty impressive speeches from each side’s lawyers at the beginning of the trial. They may have made long-winded, grand statements about the case, their client, what the jury should expect to learn, and how they should process that information. If this sounds familiar, you witnessed something called an opening statement, and often, it’s an aspect of courtroom trials that film and television actually tend to represent fairly well.
Even so, networks and studios can’t always get things right and may sometimes underscore or overembellish how these processes work. That’s why it’s so important to understand just how crucial opening statements truly are to the trial process and eventual outcome of your personal injury trial without relying on the silver screen.
Why We Make Opening Statements
Though opening statements are given by both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s attorneys in front of the entire courtroom, they’re really meant to be a direct address to the jury selected for the trial. During the process of jury selection, the twelve jurors who have made it into the courtroom will have already been given a brief statement explaining what kind of case is to be tried, but beyond that, they don’t know any details about what your particular case actually entails, or even who’s on trial and what each side is seeking. So that’s exactly what opening statements are meant to give them.
It would be difficult for a jury to understand the overarching implications of what’s at stake if they were just plunged into the processes of hearing testimony and seeing evidence in the case right from the start. If they aren’t introduced to the main players, aren’t given an overview of what the case is all about, and aren’t presented with what each side is aiming to achieve, they may fail to understand what that all-important testimony and evidence is trying to demonstrate. And if jury members don’t understand the case they are deliberating, then they can’t be entrusted to make a sound decision on its outcome.
So, think of an opening statement as an outline for the case that provides the jury with the overarching knowledge they need from the beginning. That’s how the groundwork is set for the jury to then better decipher facts and make a decision when the time comes for them to deliberate.
How Opening Statements Work
In a personal injury trial, the lawyer for the plaintiff will always make their opening statement first. Depending on the complexities of the case, they usually last between about 10 and 30 minutes, and once the first lawyer is finished, the defense lawyer will be called to make their own opening statement.
Opening statements generally do not contain any sort of argument, but instead consist of factual statements about the lawyer’s client and the incident that occurred. They are often based on the lawyer’s careful research of the evidence, combined with their expert understanding of the specific laws related to the case.
As the client, you most likely will not hear your lawyer’s opening statement before it is delivered live in the courtroom. Instead, you will hear it for the first time, along with the jury, judge, and everyone else. Even though you are not an active participant in this step, it’s imperative to have proper etiquette throughout every minute of each opening statement. Keep your emotions under control and remember that your attorney will have plenty of opportunity later to argue against anything the opposing counsel may include in their own opening statement that you find false or inaccurate.
If your lawyer has the right background and experience with bringing personal injury cases to trial, you should trust them to deliver the opening statement effectively. Before this moment, you will have spent time with them and provided all the information they need to craft an expert statement on your behalf, and from there, it’s in their hands to use that information and their oratorial expertise to show the jury what they need to see from the very beginning.
What a Good Opening Statement Needs
Presenting a clear and concise outline of the case at hand is critical, but the true importance of opening statements has the potential to run so much deeper. They provide your attorney with the incredible opportunity to set the tone for your case and, hopefully, better prime the jury to see things from your side before arguments begin or before the defendant’s lawyer even has a chance to share their own opening statement. But achieving this goal means knowing both what is allowed and appropriate to say, as well as balancing that with the proper tone and impact of delivery that can only be achieved with careful practice and experience.
A great trial attorney should be an expert at delivering opening statements—the two are synonymous. They will often start by identifying and introducing both themselves and their client to the jury, presenting a theory of the case, and reminding the jury why they are there. They may then go into a carefully orchestrated outline of what the evidence in the case will show, followed by an explanation of what must be proved by the end of the trial. They will often identify the key witnesses they plan to call upon and share a brief overview of what those witnesses’ statements will be. Finally, they will often conclude by reminding the jury of their theory of the case and explicitly telling the jury what they want the outcome to be. If you are the client, that would be a verdict in favor of you, the plaintiff.
A practiced lawyer with a history of winning cases at trial will aim to tell a good story that hooks the jury, but while remaining within the confines of what is permissible in a courtroom. Though theorizing is okay, your lawyer should argue the facts of the case and the law. They should make statements in the affirmative, rather than negating or attacking the other side’s opinion. They will weave their words expertly to help paint a picture in the jury’s mind, and should be unafraid to personalize their side’s plaintiff and witnesses.
The key to an effective opening statement is to not only to present the facts, but truly engage the jury and begin to build their sympathy for the plaintiff and what they’ve been through from the very beginning. Being in a unique position to deliver their opening statement first, your lawyer truly does have the ability to set the tone of the trial—but only if they understand and have practiced how to achieve that. If they have, you can rest a little easier knowing you’re likely in good hands.
The Finney Injury Law trial attorneys are here to fight for justice. With decades of experience representing car crash victims, trucking incident survivors, and those who’ve suffered child/daycare negligence – they have the expertise needed to win your case. So call 314-293-4222 now – our compassionate legal professionals will evaluate your case and provide actionable options for you and your family!
Posted Under: Litigation/Trial