By Dr. Ken Broda-Bahm:
The jurors lean forward in their seats a bit as they have their first chance to hear about the case in opening statement. The attorney steps to the lectern, looks directly at the panel, pauses, raises his hand for emphasis and...reintroduces himself and everyone sitting at counsel table. "You've already met me, my name is...and I represent...." Then, once the introductions are out of the way, he proceeds straight into the remarks he always uses to congratulate the jurors and say, "Thank you for your service," and also share a few quotations: "Jurors are really important for a democracy." With that step accomplished, it is time to hear about what an opening statement is and isn't: "It isn't evidence, it is the picture on the top of the puzzle box," and so on. At this point, nearly ten minutes into the attorney's time, the jury has noticeably changed. No longer on the edges of their seats, they've become accustomed to the realization that an opening statement is neither as exciting or concise as it's Law & Order versions. They're drifting off and thinking of other things, just as the lawyer is finally coming round to talking about the case.
That is an opportunity lost. At a time when the jury's attention is at its peak, the attorney focused on formalities and platitudes. Instead of using those few golden moments of fresh attention to aggresively convey a trial theme and frame the case story from his perspective, he simply followed a routine. "But," he will counter, "I did get into the theme and the story right after that." And it is true that any powerful appeal he could have put into the first few minutes he can always add later. But attention will never again be as high as it was during those initial moments when the attorney and the presentation were both new and juror focus was on overdrive. Make a strong statement in your introduction -- not ten minutes in, and not even two minutes in. Make it right at the start. It is common advice and I make it frequently. But I still see it violated even more frequently. This post takes a look at why those initial minutes are so important and provides a quick list of what should be banned and what should be stressed during that precious span.