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6 Ways to Use a Mock Trial to Develop Your Opening Statement

Laurie Kuslansky
By: Laurie Kuslansky

Jury Consulting, Mock Trial, Psychology, Storytelling, Expert Witness, Opening, Closing Argument, Witness Preparation

By Laurie R. Kuslansky, Ph.D.
Managing Director, Jury & Trial Consulting
A2L Consulting 

It’s often said that the door to winning your case closes in your opening statement. Unless you are able to grab your audience, the jury, then and there, you may never be able to do so.

So how do you maximize your chances of grabbing the attention of the jury at the time that it matters most? One way is through the use of mock trials. How?

Mock trials can help you avoid losing jurors from the start, help you set the stage properly, and help mock jurors begin to use their selective attention in your favor in the following ways:

  1. Confusion. Mock trials readily reveal helpful and harmful sources of confusion.  Usually, but not always, simplicity is your friend. Either way, you will need to know how to make your points clearly during your opening. You can also determine whether your points needs graphics support from the start, how best to word them, and the context needed to place them properly in opening.
  1. Resistance. In addition to confusion as a barrier to accepting certain points in your case, jurors may bring other sources of resistance, such as personal experience, common sense, emotions, negative beliefs and the like. Unless you know what these are, you can’t get past them, no matter how hard you try. However, you can clear the way for jurors to be willing to listen to you by addressing these issues early in your opening, as by saying what the case is not about, or showing them that you are aware of their potential negativity and how you plan to overcome it. Otherwise, they will shut you out and shut down, right from the start.
  1. Cognitive Overload. You may have a lot to say, but jurors are limited in what they can hear, remember and use.  A mock trial will help identify where those two worlds optimally meet – the right amount of information needed to prove your case at the level the jury needs to find in your favor. Opening helps jurors map out what to expect and can show them that you will do as much as needed to provide them with proof, but you won’t scare them off by threatening them with too much information.
  1. Themes. One of the most important things a mock trial can reveal is the winning story, in which the key stepping stones are the case themes. These in turn should be the main takeaways, starting from the opening and running through the summation like paragraph headings to a well-constructed essay with no fluff.
  1. Witnesses. Often the “star” witness of the case for jurors is different from the star witness for counsel.  Mock trials reveal the nature of the most important testimony and its source from the decision-makers’ perspective and thus help you decide whom to feature in your case or which opposing witness to start discounting in opening.
  1. Outcomes. Mock trials teach us what result jurors seek, what it means to them, and what they hope to accomplish with their verdict.  As a result, counsel can incorporate the mock jurors’ motivations into the opening statement to align with how actual jurors may feel and start winning them over from the start. Often, why you care about the case result is different from why they may or may not care about it. Unless you know what drives them and tap into it, you lose critical momentum from the start.

In summary, mock trials are an indispensable step in the process of developing a winning opening statement.

Other free articles and free resources about mock trials, opening statements and storytelling for litigation from A2L Consulting:

opening statements toolkit ebook download a2l

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