When a theme is powerfully presented, a lawyer can cast a spell over a jury. Whenever a spell is created by opposing counsel, it must be broken as soon as possible.
To do so in an opening, you may want to invoke a dramatic statement that shifts attention to your case, the theme of which is compellingly distinct from that of the opposing counsel’s. For example, in a case alleging sexual harassment the defense began as follows: “Ladies and gentlemen, this case will demonstrate that just as it is important to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, it is equally important to eliminate false claims of harassment, which is exactly what we have here today.”
Other techniques of introduction include clearly stating your purpose or asking a question central to the case. For example: “The government is going to ask you to take away the freedom of Sergeant Smith for defending our freedom. … Now, what crime did he commit? His military working dog barked at people.” (The Baltimore Sun, March 14, 2006, quoting Capt. Jason Duncan in the opening for the defense of Sgt. Michael J. Smith in the Abu Ghraib prison case.) You can also begin by paying a compliment to the jury or appealing to the jury’s sense of self-importance: “In deciding this case you will be establishing the industry standard for the next 20 years.” Avoid introducing your case by stating that the opening cannot be considered as evidence. This only suggests that the jury should not listen to you and that what you are about to say is unimportant.
Because your listeners’ impressions of you bear on your persuasiveness, within the first five minutes of the opening you should ingratiate yourself with the jury. This isn’t hard to do. A courteous smile and a word of gratitude can help you establish much-needed rapport. There are different opinions about whether you should thank the jury for its attention during the opening, but I believe doing so can help humanize you and your client. A little courtesy can go a long way.
Ideally, within the first few minutes of your opening statement, each juror will have a favorable impression of you and a clear understanding of your overarching theme. Such themes are vital. In addition to drawing attention to your case, they can give the jurors a figurative lens through which to view all the information that is to follow and help them organize it as you wish them to.