I came across this article on Establishing Credibility in Plaintiff’s Opening and, with no disrespect meant toward the author, I was shocked at the amount of misinformation. She starts by saying that the goal of opening is to establish credibility with the jury. That is a statement with which I certainly agree. However, the author’s method of doing so, in my opinion, is extremely ineffective.
The suggested opening begins:
“May it please the court, counsel, and may it please you, ladies and gentlemen of the jury:
As you know, if you haven’t forgotten since last Friday morning, and to repeat, my name is Judith—Judy they usually call me—Cartwright, and I represent, together with Mr. Michael Mills, Norman Ames, the plaintiff in this case….”
This is useless information to jurors at this point. They’ve already been introduced to you and they care about why they are there (or at the very least it’s your job to make them care about why they are there) and not about who you are. You lose their interest in starting this way and you’ve said nothing useful.
Next, the author suggests stating that “with reference to everything that I tell you, that we will have substantial evidence for each issue or each point that I mention to you.” Now you have changed your own burden from preponderance (slightly more than 50/50) to beyond a reasonable doubt. Jurors already are programmed to evaluate evidence based on a much higher standard than you’re legally bound to. Your job is to constantly remind them that your legal burden is only to prove “more likely than not.” There is a way to do this while still ensuring jurors that you plan to make a stronger case than slightly more likely right than wrong. This is an art. I rarely see it done correctly and the author’s suggestion is a step in the opposite direction.
Finally, she suggests a full paragraph explaining who else will be trying the case and how much experience they have in the case. Jurors could not care less. This does nothing to advance your case. This author’s goal is admirable and, I believe, correct: Establish credibility with the jury as soon as possible. However, the effective ways of doing so are opposite of what this article suggests.
If you need help editing your opening statement, contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org