Trials & Litigation

7 Tips for Winning Opening Statements; Among Them: Tell a Story, Focused on Key Facts


An opening statement can make or break a case. And it isn’t just words that count, explain a Cravath Swaine & Moore partner and a federal judge in a lengthy New York Law Journal article on the topic.

It’s important to focus not only on good facts but to tell a story in a convincing manner, explains the article by partner David R. Marriott and U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. Not only what the lawyer says, but whether he or she believes in the case is critical.

Bad facts need to be accounted for, too, they say, for-instancing Gerry Spence’s admission to the jury in a 1990 racketeering and fraud trial that his client, Imelda Marcos, was a “world-class” spender and shopper. However, Spence used this negative information to her benefit, by portraying the former Philippines first lady as a small, fragile woman who didn’t have a good financial head on her shoulders and was easily manipulated by others, the article recounts.

“At a minimum,” the two write, “an effective opening must set out a theory of the case that accommodates the bad facts, even if it does not expressly mention them.”

For more tips, read the full article.

Related coverage:

ABA Journal: “Lasting Impressions”

ABA Journal: “Book ‘Clutch’ Cites David Boies as Exemplar of Success”

ABAJournal.com: “Spence is Blogging to Complete Life’s Work”

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