The closing statement is a critical moment in any trial. It is the attorney's final opportunity to persuade the jury, leaving a lasting impression and influencing their decision. A well-crafted closing statement can tie together the evidence, highlight key arguments, and deliver a compelling narrative. The importance of the closing argument should never be underestimated.
Attorneys on both sides of the case tout the significance of the closing argument. Brian J. Panish, renowned plaintiff’s attorney, prefers the title “closing argument” to “summation” because, as he explains, “it is your last chance to argue your case. Instead of summing it up, I like to take the key facts that have been proven during trial and use those to argue my case.”1 Acclaimed defense attorney Robert F. Tyson, promotes the importance of the closing argument with even more vigor: “I treat closing arguments as if everything, the entire case, winning or losing, all hinge on my closing argument. It’s do or die. This is your last, and maybe best, chance to persuade the trier of fact to rule in your client’s favor.”2 In this article, we will explore seven strategies that attorneys can employ to deliver the best closing statement possible in order to blast the other side’s case out of the water.
1. Understand Your Case So You Know Where You Will End!
As obvious as it sounds, before constructing a closing statement, it is crucial for attorneys to have a deep understanding of the case. Review the evidence, legal precedents, and the overall strategy employed throughout the trial. Identify the core themes, strengths, and weaknesses of your case, allowing you to present a coherent and persuasive narrative to the jury. Visualize what you want the jury to hear in your closing. What are the most important pieces of evidence or guiding statutes? Those are the pillars of your argument to the jury. Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, gives “Begin with the end in mind” as the second habit, and is insightful in why beginning your preparation for the end of the trial should begin here: “It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.”3
2. Tell a Compelling Story:
Humans are wired to respond to stories. A powerful closing statement should weave together the facts and emotions of the case into a compelling narrative. Craft a story that engages the jury on an emotional level, connecting them to the experiences and motivations of the parties involved. Use vivid language, analogies, and relatable examples to make your argument more relatable and memorable. As Tyson says: “Make it dramatic…. Would you want the defense lawyer to just recite everything you heard from the last several weeks and sprinkle in some boring jury instructions? Or would you want an interesting presentation that moves you to action?”4
3. Summarize the Evidence:
Although we suggest that the closing argument is not just a summation of the case, it is necessary to include some sort of summary of what was presented. Provide a concise and persuasive summary of the evidence presented throughout the trial by highlighting the key points that support your client's position, emphasizing the strongest evidence while addressing any weaknesses or inconsistencies, and using visuals, such as charts or timelines, to reinforce your argument and help the jury visualize the sequence of events.
4. Address Counterarguments:
Anticipate the opposing party's arguments and preemptively address them in your closing statement. By acknowledging potential counterarguments and refuting them with logical reasoning, you can strengthen your case and diminish the impact of the opposing side's arguments. Demonstrating that you have considered alternative viewpoints can enhance your credibility in the eyes of the jury. Also, make sure that you pinpoint weak parts of the other side’s argument as they give their opening statement, presentation of the evidence, and rebuttal so that you can use their own arguments against them during the closing argument.
5. Appeal to Reason and Emotion:
A well-rounded closing statement appeals to both the jury's rationality and emotions. One of Tyson’s main suggestions for closing arguments is to “keep it real. Whatever you feel about your case, say it. Be real…. Regardless of what your defenses are, show the jury you care."5 When presenting logical arguments supported by the evidence, legal principles, and expert testimony, don't overlook the emotional aspect of the case. Connect with the jury on a human level by evoking empathy, compassion, or outrage when appropriate. Emotionally resonant statements can leave a lasting impact and work to influence the jury's decision-making process in your favor.
6. Utilize Effective Delivery Techniques:
Delivery plays a crucial role in the effectiveness of a closing statement. Use clear and concise language, avoiding overly technical terms that may confuse the jury. Maintain eye contact, project confidence, and use vocal inflections to emphasize key points. Employ pauses strategically to allow important ideas to sink in. Body language should convey credibility, sincerity, and conviction. As Tyson suggests, make your last words to the jury “dynamic, persuasive, and caring” in order to win the jury and the case.6
7. Call for Action:
Conclude your closing statement by clearly articulating the desired outcome. Urge the jury to make a decision in favor of your client based on the evidence and legal standards. Provide a compelling reason why justice and fairness demand a verdict in your client's favor. Leave the jury with a sense of responsibility and the understanding that their decision carries significant consequences. Panish echoes this statement, saying:
You must persuade them that their verdict is an opportunity to do something noble, important and hugely significant. This is the truth. Involve your jurors in this crusade from the beginning of the case to the very end by making the case interesting and compelling to them. Do not let the trial, and especially the argument, become so dull and unimportant to them that they end up deciding the case based on which lawyer irritated them the least.7
Crafting an effective closing statement requires a combination of meticulous preparation, persuasive storytelling, and compelling delivery. By understanding the intricacies of the case, summarizing the evidence effectively, addressing counterarguments, appealing to reason and emotion, and delivering the statement with confidence, an attorney can maximize their chances of success in the courtroom. A powerful closing statement has the potential to sway the minds of the jury, leading to a favorable outcome for your client and your reputation as a trial lawyer.
Tyson Jr., Robert F. Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All (Law Dog Publishing, LLC., 2020), p180.
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey.
- Tyson Jr., Robert F. Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All (Law Dog Publishing, LLC., 2020), p188.
- Tyson Jr., Robert F. Nuclear Verdicts: Defending Justice for All (Law Dog Publishing, LLC., 2020), p189.