The “Dos” and “Don’ts” of Closing Arguments

What are some common “Dos” and “Don’ts” when it comes to closing argument? Here is a list I put together:

            Do:

  1. Speak loud and clearly.
  2. Be confident.
  3. Vary your tone and location as you move from point to point.
  4. Be organized.
  5. Begin and end on a high note so your points will be remembered.
  6. Help the Jury with the instructions and form of verdicts.
  7. Keep track of your time.
  8. Try out your arguments on non-lawyers to insure your arguments are persuasive and understandable.
  9. Begin working on your closing argument on day one.  It will inform your discovery, preparation and instructions allowing you to develop a cohesive theme from day one.
  10. Be yourself.
  11. Be sincere and honest and the jury will trust you as a guide.
  12. Deal with your problems head-on before your opponent has a chance to address them.
  13. Use your exhibits and excerpts of key testimony from the witnesses.
  14. Use PowerPoint, blowups of testimony, or charts to assist the jury.
  15. Use analogies, quotes and vivid descriptions to keep them interested.
  16. Save your best “zingers” and analogies for rebuttal if you know the defense will have to address the matter in their argument.
  17. Judiciously use repetition as tool for emphasizing significant points.
  18. Have a clear call to action at the very end of your closing.

                       

            Don’ts:

  1. Don’t state your own personal opinion about the justness of your cause.
  2. Don’t misstate the evidence or law.
  3. Don’t mention evidence outside of the record.
  4. Don’t berate or personally attack the other lawyer to the Court.
  5. Don’t tell the jury to ignore the law.
  6. Don’t make a “Golden Rule” appeal to the jury and ask them to decide the case like they would want to be treated if they were in your client’s position.
  7. Don’t exceed the time allotted by the Court.
  8. Don’t personally vouch for a witness or your client.
  9. Don’t appeal to bias or prejudice.
  10. Don’t complain about the Court’s rulings or its treatment of you and your client.
  11. Don’t attempt to shift the burden of proof to the other side when you have the burden of persuasion on a legal claim or defense.
  12. Don’t implicate a defendant’s right to remain silent in a criminal case.
  13. Don’t insinuate that it is a lawyer made case without first obtaining approval of the Court.
  14. Don’t violate any orders granting motions in limine. (Can you say mistrial?)
  15. Don’t bore the jury or beat a dead horse.
  16. Don’t ask the jury to send a message with their verdict unless you have a punitive damage claim.  The purpose of the verdict in the typical tort case is to fairly compensate, not send a message.
  17. Don’t wear any distracting clothing or jewelry.
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About Richard A. Cook

Richard Cook graduated from Purdue University in the Economics Honor Program in 1979 and obtained his Juris Doctor degree from Valparaiso University School of Law in 1982. Following law school, Richard served as a federal law clerk in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division. In 1984, Richard began working as Deputy Prosecutor for the Lake County Prosecutor's Office and from there, served as Assistant U. S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. There he handled a number of complex criminal matters and jury trials. While there, Richard received the Chief Postal Inspector's Special Award and a letter of commendation from the U.S. Attorney General for his work prosecuting a major money order fraud scheme being perpetrated out of the Indiana State Prison system. Since leaving the U.S. Attorney's office in 1989, Richard has focused primarily on civil work and is currently a member of the firm Yosha Cook & Tisch in Indianapolis. Richard is also a member of the ITLA, IBA and the ABA, as well as, a fellow for the American College of Trial Lawyers. He is AV rated by Martindale-Hubbell.

Posted on June 22, 2015, in closing arguments, dos and don'ts, mock trial, Trial Advocacy. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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