Using the Mini Opening Statement for Jury Selection
The mini opening statement is a very valuable tool which is commonly used by successful trial lawyers in California and elsewhere. Unlike the full opening statement, which will be designed to present the entire case and be persuasive, the mini opening is used as a tool for jury selection. I recently wrote an article in the Trial Lawyer magazine about mini openings (download HERE). The Trial Lawyer is the magazine of the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association. While the article is aimed at providing practice tips for litigation lawyers, there are things that clients need to know about the mini opening when one is being given (and I can’t think of a case where you would want to omit a mini opening.)
Rather than building the case up and trying to persuade people, the mini opening goes the opposite direction, deliberately withholding good facts, and making the case seem like less than it is. Why would a lawyer do this? It facilitates getting jurors to open up about their biases towards the case and client. When the statement leads potential jurors to think that the case may be weak, it frees them up to be very open about their prejudices and negative views, views that they were going to have no matter what, but which can often be hard to elicit in open court. You want these people to open up about these feelings, so that you can potentially get the judge to dismiss them “for cause.” One of the greatest challenges of jury selection is the potential juror who has negative feelings about the plaintiff or the type of case, but is reluctant to say so in court. You need people with negative views of the case to open up and be honest about their feelings, so that you will have the grounds to ask the judge to dismiss them.
Clients looking to hire a trial lawyer should expect that person to be experienced in using mini openings in trial. And clients going to trial need to be prepared for a mini opening that doesn’t sound at all like the persuasive advocacy they would expect from their lawyer–there will be plenty of time for that as the jury is chosen and the trial progresses.