Readying the Final Punch – Also Known as the Closing Argument
Join me as I talk tips for upping your trial performance. I’ll cover all aspects of the trial, including, jury selection, opening statements, direct witness testimony, cross-examination, closing arguments, jury instructions, and verdicts. Discussions are welcome in the comments section.
— Tad Thomas
As the final piece of your trial, the closing argument is not simply an opportunity to reiterate your client’s story and frame it in the way you want the jury to hear it. A compelling closing argument will only review the evidence in a way to empower the jury to find in your client’s favor. To strengthen your courtroom skills, let’s take a look how just how you can craft a strong closing argument and what you should avoid.
Tips for an Effective Closing Statement
When prepping your closing statement, look back at your opening statement. If your opening statement is strong, simply make the point that you have proven all of the facts you outlined in your opening statement without dwelling on them. When crafting your argument, keep the following in mind:
- Retain a Sense of Chronology. Evidence isn’t always presented in chronological order over the course of a trial. Chronology, however, is an important element of any case, as it will help the jurors understand what happened, why they are there, and what decision they should make. Remember that chronology should be used to tell a story, but not every detail needs to be included since the jury will rebuff your attempt to construe facts from the trial in a way that is contrary to their impression of the evidence. Without question, exclude unimportant events so you can highlight what really matters.
- Play Videotaped Testimony. Videotaped testimony is powerful. It can be even more powerful when used during closing argument because you’ll have the ability to set up the testimony, play only the essential clips you want the jury to hear, and argue why those clips are important. Remember that you will be required to get court approval prior to playing clips in closing in many jurisdictions.
- Incorporate Demonstrative Evidence. Any type of demonstrative evidence is better than none in trial. Consider showing key charts, graphs, diagrams, and animations to the jury, but again, make it short and sweet as the jury has already seen the evidence.
- Wrap Your Argument in a Theme. You want your closing argument to hammer the theme you established in your opening statement. If, for example, your case’s theme revolves around the defendant failing to acknowledge the duty they owed to the plaintiff, which resulted in their injuries, argue that point in the closing argument. If you have a cohesive theme, you’ll be more likely to appeal to the jurors’ emotions.
What to Avoid When Giving a Closing Argument
With the closing argument being your last chance to convince the jury to side with your client, there are some things you’ll want to avoid when crafting and presenting your statement. When you take the tips above into consideration with this information on what to avoid, you’ll be on your way to delivering a strong closing argument on your client’s behalf.
- Don’t Lose the Jurors’ Attention. Remember that your closing argument is the climax of the case. With there being few rules that govern closing arguments, have fun with it. If your statement is boring, i.e., simply reiterating the evidence, you risk the jurors zoning out and missing your point. Remember that most jurors are more familiar with television courtroom dramas than actual courtroom procedures.
- Don’t Read Your Closing Argument. Newer attorneys who are nervous in the courtroom may read their prewritten closing argument to the jury. Doing this is just boring. If you use PowerPoint or Keynote, you won’t have to rely on your notes, as they’ll be in front of you and the jury. However, avoid using a lot of text in your slides. Use graphics and images to be more compelling.
- Don’t Wait to Prepare Your Closing Argument. If you’ve ever watched the opposing counsel scramble to draft a closing argument while you were presenting yours, it’s likely you know that’s never a good idea. Prepare a draft of your closing statement, or at least the outline, well before the trial begins. You can modify the statement as the trial progresses, and you’ll have time to practice.
- Don’t Forget Your Rebuttal. If you’re in a state that allows rebuttal remember to reserve time with the judge. If you fail to take advantage of the rebuttal, you may be giving up your opportunity to have the last word. You can prepare for the rebuttal by taking notes of the opposing party’s key points during trial. Plan out your last sentences and tailor the response to the other side’s closing.
Overall, remember to create the right energy surrounding your closing argument. Be firm in your statements, be sure to have the evidence to support your client’s case, and make everything you do intentional. When you believe in what you’re fighting for, the jurors will believe too.
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