In Part II of this Trial Advocacy Techniques series, I want to share some tips on opening statement that I learned from writing my latest book, Turning Points at Trial. In Part I, we learned the importance of making a boring case interesting in order to persuade the factfinder. Here are a some tips from Windle Turley on opening statement that will immediately improve your techniques and results in your next trial.
Windle Turley’s Preparation Strategies for Opening Statement
Early in his career, Turley would prepare his opening statement on the morning of the trial. After losing five cases in a row, he changed his philosophy forever.
Now, a few months before the start of a case, Turley creates a trial notebook that includes a section allowing for constant preparation of his opening statement. As he thinks of an idea, he jots it down in this section. At least two weeks before the trial, he begins earnestly working on his ultimate opening statement.
Then, several days before the trial, he writes it out word for word. Although he won’t read it verbatim to the jury, he will paint a picture with the words he has written. “You have to make sure every sentence and every word counts,” explains Turley. He works incessantly on “key phrases” to ensure delivering them correctly.
To avoid presenting a memorized speech, Turley goes to the podium with an outline containing just a few key parts written out word for word. When delivering the opening statement, he will only occasionally look at his outline.
Turley makes sure he keeps eye contact with the jurors and avoids pacing. He is also a big believer in using visual aids during his opening statement and throughout the trial.
The Four Trial Advocacy Techniques of a Persuasive Opening Statement
Turley instructs that there are four ingredients every opening must have to be successful.
First, he says, “you have a great opportunity to draw attention to your case and, ultimately, if the jury doesn’t think your case is extraordinarily important to somebody or to society, they’re probably not going to do much for you.”
Second, “here’s your opportunity to tell the jury your entire story and for you to be a witness for your entire case.”
Third, it “gives you the opportunity to defuse your opponent’s case” or “to pop the defendant’s bubble.” You do that by telling the jury, “In a moment, defense counsel is going to tell you this, and this is why that is not true.” As Turley says, “You knock him down on every point he or she is going to make.”
Fourth, the opening statement is a chance for you to bond with the jury. Turley claims this comes through “wordsmithing. You talk about the things they talk about around their breakfast table.” For example, you can talk about “our community.” This lets them know they are going to be in a position to be a decision maker. He explains, “If you pick the right phrases, you can embrace the ordinary juror. You become a common man with them.”
Many lawyers argue their case in voir dire, but Turley thinks this is a big mistake. First, he says, doing so wastes precious time needed to get information from jurors in order to strike them. Second, lawyers argue “half-ass” in voir dire and then give another “half-ass” argument during opening statements. Instead, Turley advises arguing a case in “one glorious sweep” when opening.
Apply Turley’s tips to your next trial and you will see a vast improvement in your trial advocacy techniques and results. If you want to see my latest youtube video on opening statement tips, click here.