As court reporters, we have sat through many court cases, and we have heard many different closing statements from many different attorneys. Let’s just say, that some closing arguments have been effective, and some have not…
The closing statement is the most important part of an entire court case. It is going to be what the jurors remember when they go into the jury room for deliberations. You want to make sure that the jurors know exactly what your argument is and problems with your opposition’s argument are. Here are some things that we have noticed in our years of court reporting about what a lawyer can do to create an effective closing argument.
1. Be Prepared
Yes, this tip is obvious, before you say any speech in a courtroom, you should be prepared. When you are about to say your closing argument, you need to up your game a little bit more. Be sure that you are taking highly detailed notes throughout the entire case. Be sure to notice any inconsistencies or errors in testimonies or your opposition’s arguments. Once you feel that you are confident in the points that you want to make. Create a detailed outline. Be sure to write everything down. Writing helps you remember your thoughts so creating an outline will help you organize your argument and clarify what you are going to say.
2. Use Simple Language
Something that you need to remember is that you are not talking to your colleagues, you are speaking with a group of normal people. This does not mean that they are uneducated, but just remember you have spent years working with the law. Many jurors only have basic experience with the law. They only know what they have seen in the media and what they are currently experiencing. You throw one bit of legal jargon in there, you may lose them completely. As much as it is in your power, stick to the vernacular and simplistic phrases.
3. Be Concise
No one wants to hear a lawyer drone on and on about a lawsuit. The jurors have been there throughout the case. They have already heard all of the arguments and testimonies. The point of a closing argument is just to repeat the main points of your argument and the case in its entirety. Be very clear in the points that you want to say, and be sure that you communicate the main ideas that you want the jurors to remember.
4. Create a Clear Counterargument
Remember how we already told you to take notes of errors within the opposition’s testimony or argument? Use those errors to your advantage. “A good defense is the best offense” so to speak. If you counter all of your opposition’s points well, then you basically nullify anything that they say in their closing argument. If you are on the defense, remind the jurors that the defendant is innocent until proven guilty and that it is the prosecution’s job to bring the body of proof against the defendant. If there is anything missing within their argument, the defendant should not be prosecuted.
5. End With Something Memorable
According to the Greeks, there were three avenues an orator could use to argue their point. Logos (logic, facts, evidence), pathos (emotions), and ethos (ethics of the speaker). We seem to emphasize logos in our courtrooms, but we tend to ignore pathos and ethos. However, these are effective tools. Emotions and ethics are vitally important. You want to persuade the jury that your client is an ethical person and use your juror emotions to prove your points. If you are a defendant, remind the jurors that they could be punishing an innocent person. If you are on the prosecution, remind them that they could be sending a dangerous individual back onto the streets. This will make your argument more persuasive and you are reaching your jurors from multiple points of view.
In closing, don’t underestimate the power of an effective closing argument. You want to be sure that your jurors fully understand your argument and the consequences of their choice. Create a clear, cohesive argument that makes the jury feel confident in their decision.