As the famous movie quote says, the job of a trial lawyer is to always be closing. From opening arguments through witness testimony, everything builds to closing arguments. Everything a trial lawyer has done throughout the trial is designed to peak during that final speech to the jury.
Of course, not all trials get to closing arguments. By this point, both sides have seen the strengths and weaknesses of the other case and had theirs tested as well. Should one side feel their case is not strong enough, offers may start to go back and forth and a settlement struck. If both sides are confident in the merits of their respective cases, then the trial lawyers proceed to closing.
Closing arguments are also the point where the trial lawyer’s rapport with the jury comes into sharp focus. If the lawyer has done his or her job, there will be a bond of trust between him or her and the members of the jury. If not, then the lawyer will face a skeptical jury. This also is not the time to test that bond. Just as with witness testimony, it is important for the trial lawyer to deal up front with any weaknesses in his or her case that emerged during trial. Glossing over glaring gaps or failing to explain problems with your case will strain the lawyer’s credibility with the jury and hurt the client’s chance for a defense verdict. Juries expect to be told the truth and are very influenced by the trustworthiness of trial lawyers.
As with all stages of a trial, nothing said in closing arguments should surprise the client’s representatives. A good trial lawyer will have involved key client stakeholders in all decisions throughout the trial, and the closing arguments phase is no exception. The closing argument should focus on the case from the client’s point of view, weaving in key messages about the company.
Many client representatives who have not attended the trial to this point come in to witness closing arguments. Often this is to observe the trial lawyer to see if this is someone they want to use again in the future. Many in-house counsel also like to verify that the reports they have been receiving throughout the trial are consistent with what has been going on in the courtroom. Client stakeholders also come to closing arguments to gauge for themselves, one final time, the strength of their case and how the jury reacts. Just as many cases settle before closing arguments, still more reach a settlement before a jury comes back with a verdict. Attending closing arguments gives client representatives the first-hand information they need to make an informed decision regarding settlement.
Closing arguments are a chance for a trial lawyer to present an intimate narrative of the client’s case directly to the jury. In many ways, that speech to the jury is the most persuasive and important part of the trial. If the lawyer has built enough trust with the jury, it will serve to highlight why the jury should decide for the client. Everything builds to this moment of the trial, and good trial lawyers know how to maintain and deepen the trust bond they hold with the jury, hopefully securing a victory.
Disclaimer: This is for general information and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice for any particular matter. It is not intended to and does not create any attorney-client relationship. The opinions expressed and any legal positions asserted in the article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Miles & Stockbridge P.C., its other lawyers, or InsideCounsel.