October 24th, 2023

First Impression

Malcome Gladwell says we form our first impression within seconds (two seconds to be exact). He points to studies showing not much difference between a first impression based on seconds and an impression based on prolonged exposure. (See What the Dog Saw).

On reflection this makes sense in our age of sound bites and rapid fire media coverage. This also makes sense when we look at ourselves from an evolutionary standpoint. Our prehistoric ancestors had to immediately react on first impression to survive.

Applying the reality of first impression to a jury trial means our jurors form an impression of us before we open our mouths. According to Gladwell people like and trust people who appear confident and smile. To fail to make immediate eye contact and smile when jurors enter the courtroom is to miss the initial first impression opportunity.

Jury consultants David Ball and Harry Plotkin teach the importance of jury selection and opening statement in establishing the case in the minds of the jurors. Jury selection is the first time we have a dialog with our jurors. The great Clarence Darrow is reported to have whispered to his second chair after jury selection “the trial is over.” (He was correct in that case).

Opening statement is the first time we introduce the case to our jurors. Both Mr. Ball and Mr. Plotkin teach to begin dispassionately with the conduct of defendant. Then introduce plaintiff in a factual way without trying to sell the case. The aura is that of an accurate historian where the facts call for justice in favor of our injured plaintiff. This leaves a first impression of objectivity. When we do this with a pleasant demeanor coupled with an aura of acceptance we make a favorable first impression. Although the trial is not over we are on our way to success with a favorable first impression.

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March 1st, 2022

Opening Statement Thoughts

Darin Strauss in The Fine Art Of Where To Start [a story] teaches the most important part of a story is the beginning as in the first words out of my mouth in opening statement. In Opening Statement I Tell a Story.  In a personal injury case the story involves the injury to my client.

When telling my story I remember “A story equals trouble.” My personal injury story must discuss how the trouble caused injury to my client.  Strauss teaches the sooner I introduce trouble into my story the more likely my listeners (the jury) will pay attention. This means beginning the story with the  action of the trouble. 

Jacob Appel in Writer’s Digest reasons: “I started devoting an entire session of my writing class to opening lines when I realized that the last formal instruction I’d had on the subject was the grade school admonition that stories should begin with a hook. In the years since, I’ve come to believe that the fate of most …[stories] is sealed within the initial …[phrases]—and that the seeds of that triumph or defeat are usually sown by the end of the very first sentence.”



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March 27th, 2013

Opening Statement-Discover the Story


A quality opening statement requires becoming one with our client’s story. Becoming one with our client’s story means feeling the emotion of our client’s story. To accomplish this we:

Listen. We begin by listening to our client. We encourage her to show us her story in the first person present tense. We guard against  projecting our story into our client’s story, by listening and identifying with our client’s emotions. We  emotionally relate to our client and this aura will be present at trial. 

Role Reverse. We role reverse and become our client. As Atticus Finch tells daughter Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view — until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Through role reversal we feel the emotion of our client. This takes us to a deeper level. 

Doubling. Once we feel our client’s story we go deeper into the story through doubling. We  sit or stand behind our client as she tells the story in first person present tense. When we feel something deeper in the story we speak to our client from behind by becoming our client’s voice. We coordinate this so our client adds our input into the story if it fits how she feels if not our input is ignored. When doubling works our client is assisted in getting to a deeper emotional level.

Recreate ScenesSeeing is believing and seeing can cause a subjective (spoken) fact to rise to the level of an objective (visualized) fact. Thus we recreate key scenes in our client’s story using props. Props are as simple as office chairs to represent a room where the scene occurred. We can also use people in our office to play the role of others in the scene. We assist our client in reliving the scene by directing the scene. Once the scene is created another person can play our client as she observes the scene, verifies accuracy and gets in touch with her emotional response.

Identify Emotional Power. Now that we have recreated what we feel are key scenes we and our client can identify scenes that contain emotional power in the story. This emotional power is felt at a deep level by both attorney and client. We have now discovered where the emotional power will come in our opening statement. Cases are won when the  emotions of our client flow into the courtroom.

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November 16th, 2010

Success in a Jury Trial (Opening Statement)

For opening statement I follow the David Ball model from David Ball on Damages The Essential Update (Second Edition, NITA 2005) which I simplify to fit my style. I speak in the present tense so the story is unfolding now. My body language  stays in the zone of truth meaning my hands stay waist high slightly moving in and out and side to side. ( I stand  in one place unless I move to set an anchor for a fact or point that will be repeated throughout the trial (with the jesture where the anchor is set). My version of the Ball opening follows:

Theme. I go with Ball here and begin by discussing the rule and its consequence. Jurors know they are judges in the case and they want to know the rule right away. They also what to know the consequence for breaking the rule. As Ball teaches I stay simple. “A driver has to watch the road and see what’s there to be seen. When he does not, and as a result hurts another driver, he is responsible for the harm.” I continue to follow Ball-“Now let me tell you the story of what happened in our case.”

Facts. I stick to the facts without conclusions, or speculation. I stay with nouns and verbs avoiding adjectives and adverbs. As professors Strunk and White say there  has not been an adjective or adverb made that can pull a weak noun or verb out of a tight place. I stay calm and collected staying in the zone of truth with my hands. Passion when the hands move up to the chest area is saved for closing. The facts are told from the conduct of defendant first up to his negligence when plaintiff is introduced to the story. After introducing plaintiff as the victim of the negligence I introduce the adversity which we have learned is the injury.

Who We Are Suing and Why. Here I stay with Ball. As he teaches the jury is educated with the facts. Now it is time to tell them who defendant is and why we have brought our case to court.

Defendant’s Arguments. Staying with the Ball model I cover the arguments of defendant. The jury will here these soon during defendant’s opening. I cover them in general and point out we will produce evidence (witnesses and/or documents) that will demonstrate we know the arguments and will prove them wrong.

Harm to Plaintiff. Here I discuss the facts of injuries to plaintiff-the adversity dealt to our hero- and what he is doing to overcome. We know in tragedy the hero will not be able to overcome the adversity. Here I discuss the facts on economic loss, disability, loss of enjoyment of life, and pain and suffering and how they exist today.  In doing this I stick to facts-no conclusions, no opinions.

My Job, Your Job. I leave Ball here and flow into explaining my job is to prove a proper personal injury case. I explain how this will happen giving the jury a preview of how the trial will unfold.   This is when I give the amount we will demonstrate the case is worth in cases where I have decided to give the jury the amount before closing. Either way I then cover the jury’s job which is to listen to the evidence so they can provide fairness in their verdict at the end of the trial. I end by telling them the next time we talk we apply the facts to the law to arrive at fairness.  I thank the jurors and sit down.

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