Credibility is king in the courtroom!
Unfortunately, a lot of trial lawyers don't know how to make a proper opening statement and end up losing credibility with the jurors.
To make matters worse, they are blowing a huge opportunity to get the jury to start criticizing the other party before you even start talking about the facts!
Here's where things go wrong...
It's ok to have fun in the courtroom.
Jury Selection (a.k.a. "Voir Dire" for the fancy folks) should always be focused on making the potential jury members comfortable -- especially because you're going to be asking them some pretty personal questions.
As I talk about in this Ultimate Guide on How to Write an Opening Statement (you can also watch the video here), I strongly recommend that you make Jury Selection fun and personable. Doing so will allow for the potential jurors to loosen up and connect with you.
And every judge that I've been in front of likes to make an impression with potential voters by kicking things off with some jokes. So you should carry that energy for your portion of Jury Selection.
But, trial is a serious matter so when does the fun stop?
10-Step Formula to the Perfect Opening Statement
Jekyll and Hyde
Let's set the scene a bit.
You've just concluded Jury Selection and you killed it by being personable and engaging.
The jurors are selected and put in the jury box.
The Judge announces that you can proceed with Opening Statement.
You walk up to the jurors as an advocate for the first time.
How do you act?
The vast majority of lawyers immediately default to "lawyer mode" and start hitting the jurors with the heavy drama.
That's a major mistake!
You need to keep in mind that you are still continuing your first impression with the jurors.
It's extremely abrupt and polarizing to go from super likeable during Jury Selection (when you shouldn't be advocating) to super serious during Opening Statement (when you start advocating).
If you take this Jekyll-and-Hyde approach, then the jury won't know which is the real you.
Even worse, they may think that you were only being friendly during Jury Selection just so you can get intimate details from them.
And the LAST thing you would ever want is to seem manipulative or to lose credibility within the first two minutes of Opening Statement.
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The Tone Shift
The solution to this issue is simple.
And when executed well, it can be extremely effective!
With all of your Opening Statements, you need to have a transition that shifts the tone from fun to serious.
This can be as simple as saying:
Congrats for making it on the jury! I know you all have worked very hard to be here!
While I wish we could spend the rest of today chatting and getting to know each other, I unfortunately can't do that.
Because what has taken everyone from their daily lives and has brought us together today are some very serious issues.
And it's my job to present these serious issues...
The above example is pretty basic (and you should incorporate "inside" jokes that develop during Jury Selection), however, it still illustrates the power behind the tone shift.
Notice that the beginning creates a sense of community and connection between the lawyer and the jury.
And when the tone shift occurs, the jury starts to wonder who or what is essentially ruining the fun for everyone.
Not only does this make the jury engaged because they want answers (which you will give them), but it also makes them much more critical of the person who is causing you -- a member of their new community -- to get serious.
And if the jury is already being critical of the other party at this stage, then you're already crushing it!
Check out this blog post about Opening Statement examples and watch this Opening Statement on YouTube to see how you can turn the jury against the opposing side.
By applying the tone shift, you're accomplishing several things.
First, you're developing a strong connection with the jury.
Second, you're making the jury more engaged because they want to know who is ruining the party.
Third, you're heightening the jury's criticism towards the other party before you even start talking about the facts that will be presented.
That's the triple crown right there!
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