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:
- Speak loud and clearly.
- Be confident.
- Vary your tone and location as you move from point to point.
- Be organized.
- Begin and end on a high note so your points will be remembered.
- Help the Jury with the instructions and form of verdicts.
- Keep track of your time.
- Try out your arguments on non-lawyers to insure your arguments are persuasive and understandable.
- 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.
- Be yourself.
- Be sincere and honest and the jury will trust you as a guide.
- Deal with your problems head-on before your opponent has a chance to address them.
- Use your exhibits and excerpts of key testimony from the witnesses.
- Use PowerPoint, blowups of testimony, or charts to assist the jury.
- Use analogies, quotes and vivid descriptions to keep them interested.
- Save your best “zingers” and analogies for rebuttal if you know the defense will have to address the matter in their argument.
- Judiciously use repetition as tool for emphasizing significant points.
- Have a clear call to action at the very end of your closing.
- Don’t state your own personal opinion about the justness of your cause.
- Don’t misstate the evidence or law.
- Don’t mention evidence outside of the record.
- Don’t berate or personally attack the other lawyer to the Court.
- Don’t tell the jury to ignore the law.
- 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.
- Don’t exceed the time allotted by the Court.
- Don’t personally vouch for a witness or your client.
- Don’t appeal to bias or prejudice.
- Don’t complain about the Court’s rulings or its treatment of you and your client.
- 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.
- Don’t implicate a defendant’s right to remain silent in a criminal case.
- Don’t insinuate that it is a lawyer made case without first obtaining approval of the Court.
- Don’t violate any orders granting motions in limine. (Can you say mistrial?)
- Don’t bore the jury or beat a dead horse.
- 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.
- Don’t wear any distracting clothing or jewelry.