Inside Track: Opening Statements: Tips for Capturing the Jury's Attention Early:

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  • Opening Statements: Tips for Capturing the Jury's Attention Early

    Studies show that jurors make their up their minds pretty quickly during the trial. Litigator John Claypool shares tips to get them on your side.
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    Oct. 16, 2019 – Studies have shown that jurors make their minds up pretty quickly during the trial, according to litigator John Claypool, based in Appleton.

    “The sooner you can get them on your side, the better off you are,” said Claypool of Herrling Clark Law Firm Ltd. Claypool was a panelist discussing “Tips and Strategies for Powerful Opening Statements” at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s 2019 Annual Meeting and Conference in June, and he stopped by for an interview to provide a recap.

    “I’ve actually been part of studies where we have analyzed how jurors dissect evidence and testimony, and what we have found is jurors will, fairly early, make up their mind,” Claypool said. “They’ve already picked sides, if you will.”

    Claypool said jurors will pick out testimony and evidence that they think supports their initial hypothesis or their initial beliefs, which makes the opening statements so crucial.

    “Opening statements, in my opinion, are the most difficult part of the case,” Claypool said. “The nerves are still affecting you, you got the butterflies going. Be prepared. There is so much comfort in being prepared … you will do a lot better in the opening.”

    Claypool said the opening should introduce a theme. “It has to be a theme you think the jury can relate to, and a theme they are going to hold onto throughout the entire trial.”

    That theme will be in the juries mind throughout the trial, and the closing statements will bring them back full circle, Claypool said. “Hopefully they will spend the trial looking for testimony and evidence to supports your position.”

    Crucial note of caution: social media. “I’ve had cases where I have represented an injured party and he or she decided it would be a good idea to post something on Facebook that would be contrary to what they are claiming their injuries are.”

    Claypool says one of the first thing every defense lawyer or insurance company does is search through social media to find evidence that is contrary to a party’s position.

    “It can literally ruin a case,” said Claypool, whose firm now includes clauses within the retainer agreements to restrict the client from posting anything related to the case on social media, or could be detrimental to the case. “We take that seriously.”

    Want more tips on trial practice?

    Attend “Persuading Judges and Juries” at the 2019 Wisconsin Solo & Small Firm Conference (WSSFC), Oct. 24-26 at the Kalahari Resort in Wisconsin Dells.

    Wisconsin Appeals Court Judge Michael Fitzpatrick (District IV), a former trial court judge, will kick off the three-day WSSFC event by providing insights to improve performances in both criminal and civil cases (Day 1, 8:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.).

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