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If you need to learn how to write an opening statement for a mock trial—one that will knock the pants off your classmates and leave them picking their jaws off the floor—then you’ve come to the right place.
Your opening statement is what sets the stage for the entire trial. It’s your one chance to make a strong first impression with the jurors and, if done right, can get them on your side before the trial even begins.
No pressure, right?
The good news is, it’s not that hard. By following the eight steps I’m about to show you, it’ll be near impossible NOT to make a banging first impression.
Let’s get started.
The Bulletproof Opening Statement Outline
The key to creating the perfect opening statement is staying on topic, knowing what to include, and more importantly, knowing what not to include.
Before we start writing, let’s make a quick outline to help us stay organized and focused on what’s important. Start by filling in the sections below with bullet notes from your case.
Section 1: Attention-grabbing summary of incidentSection 2: Client intro and background
Section 3: Detailed explanation of incident
Section 4: Top witnesses and evidence
Section 5: Possible counterarguments
Section 6: Theme of case
Section 7: Important decisions jurors need to make
Section 8: Requested verdict
Now that we have a solid framework, let’s look at the best way to write each section.
This can be a bit confusing without actual examples, so I’m going to write a sample opening statement alongside you.
How to Write An Opening Statement (Step-by-Step)
As you go through each of the following steps, make sure everything you write ties back to one of the three main objectives of an opening statement:
#1 – Grabbing the jurors’ attention
#2 – Building rapport and getting on their “good side”
#3 – Laying the foundation so they’ll understand the rest of the case
Got a pen ready? Let’s do this.
Step 1.) Write a “Mic Drop” Intro
Mock trials are long and tedious. As time passes, attention will fade. During your opening statement, all eyes will be on you. It’s your best opportunity to suck the jury in and get them on your side.
One of the dumbest mistakes lawyers make is wasting this opportunity by giving a yawnfest lecture about what the purpose of an opening statement is. Don’t do this!
Instead, start by introducing yourself and who you represent. Then, go straight into a dramatic, 3-4 sentence summary of what happened.
This quick summary should hit the jurors straight in the feels, make their eyes widen, ears perk up, and get them thinking, “Awww snap!”
Finally, finish with how confident you are that, after reviewing the evidence, the jury will agree with your verdict.
Step 2.) Introduce Your Client
Give a brief background on who your client is—where they live, their job, relationships, family, dreams, history, etc. The goal is to give the jury relevant context, while also humanizing your client so that jurors sympathize with them.
Try to subtly highlight aspects of your client that make them seem vulnerable, admirable, or relatable.
- Bob Crob works the graveyard shift as a janitor to provide for his 6-year-old son, Benny.
- Sam Blam was raised in the projects by his grandmother. As a kid, he dreamed of escaping his neighborhood and becoming a professional piano player, but with no adult role model to guide him, he fell into the wrong crowd.
That last example brings me to another important point—don’t sugarcoat the negative sides of your client. It’s best to acknowledge they’ve made mistakes and aren’t perfect. This shows the jury you’re not looking past the client’s shortcomings. It makes you seem honest and trustworthy.
Step 3.) Tell The Story
Now it’s time to give the jury a “roadmap” of the case.
Give a brief story of how the incident unfolded from your client’s perspective (keyword: brief). Avoid going on tangents about the background of each person and place. All you need are the key facts:
- Important places, people, dates, and times
- Actions that took place in chronological order
- Motivations behind each action
- Consequences of each action
Keep it easy to follow (don’t jump around), and try to include important facts that you can later back up with evidence.
As you’re writing, try to shine a positive light on your client. Use words and details that make them seem reasonable, likeable, and personable (while indirectly making your opponent seem unreasonable and unlikeable).
A good way to do this is to get the jurors to imagine themselves in your client’s situation using powerful, emotional language.
Step 4.) Present Your Evidence
Next, you’re going to summarize your most compelling evidence and witness testimonies. You are NOT making actual arguments here. All you’re doing is outlining the main evidence so that the jury knows what to expect later in the trial.
A good way to organize this section is by type of evidence.
Start by introducing key witnesses and a summary of what they will testify…
Then move on to other important supporting evidence…
Step 5.) Anticipate and “Soften” Counterarguments
There are two sides to every case. And, chances are, your opponent is going to try to poke holes in your story.
Your job is to anticipate the arguments your opponents are likely to make, acknowledge them upfront, and frame it in a way that helps you.
Be careful, though. There’s a fine line between acknowledging obvious weaknesses and giving your opponent free ammo. The key lies in predicting the evidence they already have. Then, with some finesse, you can try to spin your weaknesses to your advantage.
By openly admitting the glaring holes in your case, you can “soften” them and control how the jury hears it. But if you wait for your opponent to bring them up, they’ll present them in the most damaging way possible—making you look dishonest and forcing you into defense mode.
Step 6.) Summarize the Theme
Now that you’ve told the story, presented your evidence, and acknowledged your weaknesses—it’s time to start wrapping things up.
Think of this section as the “what it boils down to” section. Imagine you had to give someone a description of a case in one sentence. Instead of giving specific details, you sum it up into a theme.
Step 7.) Explain the Jurors Responsibility
You just plopped a crapload of information on the jurors’ plates—places, dates, times, witnesses, physical evidence, expert testimonies, motivations, relationships, events, etc. They’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed.
To help them out, break down the key decisions they need to make when processing all this information. State exactly what needs to be proven true/untrue in order to give a fair verdict.
Step 8.) Ask for a Specific Verdict
Finish off your opening statement by declaring what you want the verdict to be—guilty on all charges, guilty on some charges, or innocent—and how you sincerely believe the jurors will find the evidence supports this verdict.
Tips for Making a Jaw-Dropping Opening Statement
Now that we’ve looked at the mechanics of writing each section, here are some general tips to keep in mind. These will help you both in the writing process, as well as in your opening statement presentation itself.
Know what should (and shouldn’t) be included. Create a narrative that touches on all the main points from a birds-eye view without getting caught up in specific details. The opening statement is not the time to make arguments or bring up specific laws. All you’re doing is setting the context at this point.
Memorize it. As a juror, which would you find more convincing? Someone who is sweating, stuttering, and reading their opening statement from a piece of paper? Or someone who looks you in the eye, smiles, uses appropriate gestures, and confidently delivers a heartfelt message?
That said, it’s smart to have a backup plan. Prepare a written copy of your speech just in case you freeze up.
Use the present tense. When telling a story or describing a situation, use the present tense. This makes it more engaging and easier to imagine.
Sprinkle in rhetorical questions. This will keep the jurors minds active and engaged.
Know your audience. Think of your classmates who will make up the jury—their gender, cultural background, educational background, religious and moral beliefs, interests, etc.—and craft a message they will connect with.
Use logic AND emotion. Jurors aren’t robots. Your arguments will focus mostly on logic and facts, but the emotionally-charged language you use to describe those arguments should hit the jurors right in the feels.
Be ready to back up claims. Steer clear of using opinions or hearsay in your opening statement. If you can’t back up an argument with evidence, it’ll get torn to shreds.
Be real. It’s ok to add some drama, but don’t over-exaggerate claims. Doing so will lose trust with the jury.
Opening Statement Example: Burger King vs. Taco Bell
Here’s what our Burger King vs. Taco Bell opening statement looks like when you put it all together. Feel free to model this structure for your opening statement:
“Ladies and gentlemen of the court. My name is Mitch Glass, and I will be representing Mr. Burger King in this important case. On October 15th, Taco Bell ran a disturbing marketing campaign claiming, and I quote, “Tacos are the best. Burgers are gross.This outrageous comment and the events that later transpired has made Burger King feel like shit. Today, we will examine why Taco Bell’s bold claim was a downright lie, and after reviewing the evidence, I’m confident that you, too, will find Taco Bell guilty of being mean, lying jerk.
My client, Mr. Burger King, has been faithfully cooking burgers and putting smiles on customers faces since 1954. Does he make the healthiest burgers in the world? Probably not. But he always works hard, strives to do his best, and puts his customers first.
Knowing this, you can probably imagine why, on the dreary night of October 15, when my client flipped on the TV to see Taco Bell’s smug face hurling insults at burgers, he was both shocked and hurt. So hurt, in fact, that he tossed and turned all night, unable to sleep.
Finally, in an act of desperation, he called up McDonalds and Wendys to talk it out. Turns out, they too were suffering from Taco Bell’s nasty comment. They all agreed that burgers were better than tacos. And they wanted justice.”
Today you will hear from Karen Smith, a recent burger convert, who witnessed firsthand how sucky tacos are when her son spilled his chalupa all over the backseat of her brand new Dodge Caravan.
You’ll also hear from Bob Buster, who blames bean tacos for the uncontrollable farts that drove his girlfriend to break up with him—leaving him sad, alone, and smelly.
And Mr. Buster isn’t the only one, we’ll also look at a recent investigation where scientists prove the link between taco consumption and suffocating flatulence, even air pollution.
Now, my client realizes that burgers are by no means perfect. He acknowledges they are greasy, unhealthy, and sometimes come with a poor bread-to-meat ratio. But as you’ll soon see, burgers have come a long way. They’ve started implementing different bun options and are even in the process of offering a new vegetarian burger. They’re improving. The same cannot be said for tacos.
Ladies and gentlemen, this case is about an attention-seeking taco restaurant, desperate to increase sales, and willing to hurt the feelings of fellow fast-food restaurants in the process.
By examining the evidence presented to you today, it is your job to decide if Taco Bell was correct to say, “Tacos are the best. Burgers are gross,” or if they are big fat liars.”
By the end of this trial, I am confident you’ll agree that Taco Bell is guilty of all charges.”
How to Write An Opening Statement for the Defense
So far, we’ve just looked at how to write an opening statement for the prosecution. But after the prosecution gives their opening statement, the defense needs to present one as well.
The opening statement for defense follows the same format as the prosecution, but with one important difference…
In court, you are assumed innocent until proven guilty.
That means your opening statement won’t revolve around proving your client’s innocence. Instead, you’ll focus on discrediting the prosecutor’s claims and retelling the story from the defendant’s point of view.
Check out the examples below for more inspiration.
Examples of Powerful Opening Statements
Here are some other examples of opening statements from both real and mock trials. As you can see, there are many different approaches.
Some are emotional, others are dull.
Some are straight and to the point, others are long-winded.
Some focus on explaining the job of the court, others focus on storytelling—the approach we learned today.
Hope this helps you crush it in court!