The Three Stages of Preparing an Opening Statement
My first jury trial was scheduled to start next Monday. So I’ve spent the last few weeks preparing my opening statement. It has been a much more daunting process than I imained from all of the fake opening statements I’ve done. It was exhilirating, draining, and terrifying. And I haven’t even stood up in front of the jury yet.
Stage One: Calm Confidence
At first blush I thought: hey, I know this case backwards and forwards. I know the law. How hard could it be to craft something and put it in an order that the jury will understand? Four months ago I assumed it wouldn’t be very hard at all. I understood the importance of an opening statement. I had done dozens of mock trials and given plenty of opening statements. All that was left was putting together an outline of my case and the law.
No problem, right?
Stage Two: Freaking Out
After the first draft or two, I realized the wholly daunting task in front of me. I had to explain my side of the facts to the jury. But the problem is there are a lot of facts. That’s where the panic sets in. How could I possibly fit in everything I wanted to discuss without dragging on for an hour? What was important? What wasn’t? How much should I leave open to change based on the District Attorney’s opening statement? Was it ever a good idea to wait until after the state’s case to give my opening?
As these things floated around in my head, I found the easiest thing to do was put pen to paper and just start writing. The first draft was, more than anything, a stream of consciousness. But it allowed me to get my thoughts down on paper, which was a terrific start.
Stage Three: Revise, Practice, Revise Again
After several attempts, I organized the opening into a one page outline. That’s my preferred method. I don’t like having a script because it’s hard to follow. The bullet points make it easy to refer back to my notes if necessary. They also make it easy to memorize the order I want to do things in.
But what is the point in crafting an argument for a jury if I’m the only one who has weighed in? To help with this problem I bought pizza and invited over a bunch of my non-lawyer friends. In exchange for some free food and drinks they listened to the opening and gave very constructive feedback. Their feedback helped me with organization, wording, and explaining some of the concepts.
Now it’s time to revise. Then rinse and repeat with my girlfriend, my law partner, and finally twelve random people who couldn’t get out of jury duty.