A Recipe for an Effective Closing Argument

20120115-144530.jpgBelow is a summary of some thoughts dealing with closing arguments which I would like to share.  Like a good meal, a closing argument is something which requires careful preparation and a judicious mix of ingredients in the appropriate quantities.   Below is my recipe for an effective closing argument.

Goals

            While it may seem intuitively obvious, the central goal of any closing argument is to prevail on behalf of your client. Any other objective is secondary. This is your last opportunity to speak with the jury and you don’t want to waste it. Below are some thoughts concerning how to best compile the central goal on behalf of your client.

Strong Opening Grab their Attention

As far as I am concerned, you want to begin strong and end strong. You are the director, producer and central author of the closing argument. Syd Field is the author of a number of books on screenwriting. His principles have equal application to the formulation of closing argument. In his book, Screenplay: Foundations of Screenwriting he talks about how important the first 10 minutes (approximately 10 pages) of your script are.  Screeners of scripts will typically look at the first 10 pages of the screenplay and if they don’t like it, they quit reading and toss the script to the trash pile.

Jurors are not much different. If you haven’t caught their attention in the first few minutes of closing argument, they are probably going to start daydreaming about what they will do once they’re out of the trial. Instead of spending a bunch of time at the beginning of closing thanking jurors or their service, I would recommend grabbing their attention with a snappy introduction while you have their undivided attention.

Themes

Themes act as a unifying thread of your case. It is a thing that motivates the jurors to take action. There are number of potential themes.  Watch movies and see how things are developed and the best ones. In fact, I have a book that contains nothing but quotes from various movies which I tried to interject in my closings to make them more interesting and compelling. Below is an example of a closing argument that I gave which dealt with the themes “profits over safety” and “accepting responsibility”.  This is the same case discussed earlier in my materials on direct and cross examination.  Here is the introduction:

This is an important case.  It’s important for a lot of reasons – most importantly, as I said at the beginning of this trial, it’s a case about accepting responsibility and in this case Mr. King did not accept responsibility.  Mr. King ignored facts.  Mr. King ignored laws.  Mr. King was concerned about one thing and one thing only and that was himself.  One of the things that I discussed with you at the very start of voir dire was this idea that we do not allow profits to take priority over safety.  There are a lot of good reasons why we have our safety laws, but as I discussed you have to have laws and you have to make people accept responsibility for the harms and the losses that they have caused, because if you fail to do that there’s absolutely no incentive for someone to be responsible.  Below is a short list of some common themes:

Safety –  We do not allow profits to take priority over safety.

Keeping Promises – A man’s word is bond.

Preciousness of Life – As Will Munny put it in the western Unforgiven, “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. Take away all he’s got and all he’s ever gonna have.”  That is what happened here.

David & Goliath [Right v. Might]  –  Everyone loves to see the little guy prevail over the big bully whether it be the government or a large corporation.

Theft of Innocence – When a child is injured or emotional traumatized by an event or act, their life is never the same and the joy of childhood is ripped away.

 Right vs. Wrong –  You may be able to paint the case in simple terms which we are all taught as children; you do what is right because that is your duty.

Failure to Accept Reality –  Don’t Confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up.

Greed/Selfishness –  Such things often lead people to take short cuts and ignore their responsibilities to others.

Struggling to Overcome Impossible Odds –  Everyone cheers for a person who bravely soldiers on against difficult circumstances.  Perhaps your client was seriously injured and has struggled to regain some semblance of his life.  His efforts are heroic and worthy of the jury’s admiration.

Themes in cases are virtually endless and only confined by your imagination.  All great literature, including the bible, strike various themes that describe why we and what we should do.  Tap into these themes and use them to unify your argument.

Keeping Your Promises

As you move through your closing, it is important to link back to the themes and promises you made in your opening statement to show that you have fulfilled the obligations assumed in your opening statement. That is one of the reasons why you don’t want to promise anything in your opening statement that you can’t deliver on during the course of the trial.

Likewise, if your opponent has made promises and failed to fulfill them, you want to be able to point this out to the jury.  That’s why you always want to keep good notes of your opponent’s opening and in some instances you may even want the court reporter to partially transcribe the opening to drive the point home so that it can be quoted verbatim from the official transcript of the court.

Provide a Clear Request for Action

At the end of your closing argument, you want to clearly request the jury to take particular action on behalf of your client. This request for action can be addressed as you move through your closing. However, I always have a strong ending in my closing requesting action on the part of the jury.  Closing argument is similar to a pregame speech provided by a coach to his/her players. You want to motivate the jurors to take the action desired on behalf of the client.

If you can’t clearly request action on behalf of your client, how is the jury supposed to do so?  Here, is an example of such a call to action:

Our client would rather have his life back than a $1,200,000 verdict.  I suggest to you this is a seven-figure case.  I’ll leave it to your discretion to go through and look at these damages and analyze the jury instructions.  This case has been a heavy burden on our client.  It’s been a heavy burden on the attorneys to work it up, as you’ve probably seen these last four days.  But today we sit down and the job becomes yours.  And we appreciate your time and your attention to the case and know that you’ll do justice for him.

How Can I Help You?

I remember seeing Kent Rowe Sr. of South Bend, Indiana give a fairly dramatic introduction to defense closing argument in a serious personal injury case.  He looked at the jury and  asked:  “How can I help you?”  He stood there a moment, paused, and once he had the eyes of all of the jurors he moved forward and did just that… helped the jurors.  He answered questions about how they go about their job in looking through the evidence and applying the facts to the Court’s instructions.  He showed them how to handle the form of verdicts.  He posed and answered questions that were likely on the jury’s mind concerning the issues in the case.  By opening in such a fashion he crawled into the jury box and truly helped them to fulfill their duty to the justice system.

That is what we are called to do every time we deliver a closing argument… Help the Jury   reach the outcome we desire for our client.

Dealing with a Stressful Lawsuit

When you are facing any situation where the outcome is unknown, you are bound to feel a bit of stress.  Depending on the situation itself, you may be under quite a bit of stress.  When it comes to lawsuits, even the most iron clad representation cannot guarantee the outcome of a case.  The money, time and energy spent on a lengthy lawsuit can make some people just give it up before seeing it through to the end.  Well, if the matter was important enough to file a lawsuit, chances are that it is important enough to stick it out to the end.  You simply have to find a better way of coping with the stress than just giving up.

 

No Guaranteed Winner

 

Lawsuits are absolutely unpredictable affairs.  If you are the plaintiff in the case, you likely filed the lawsuit based on your understanding of the law and your rights.  However, just because you understood the law to mean a certain thing, don’t assume that a judge will agree with your interpretation.  Still, when you begin feeling that stress tighten around your chest, just remember, you filed this lawsuit for the right reasons, no matter what the outcome.  If you are the defendant in the case, you do have a bit more to be stressed about, since it is your actions that are being called into question.  Even if you feel you have done nothing wrong to warrant this lawsuit, there is always the chance that the judge will agree with the Plaintiff.  When you begin to feel some stress as a defendant, remember the burden of proof is on the Plaintiff, so all you have to do is be honest and defend yourself.

 

You Are Prepared

 

You and your attorney will spend hours perfecting your legal strategy.  You will go over every fine detail of your case many times over, you will practice your cross examination until you are prepared for any curve ball the other side can throw are you, and your attorney will know each statute that he will be using for your defense almost verbatim.  In other words, you are ready for this.  Yes, it will still be a bit stressful but anytime you start feeling some panic, just remember you have done all that you can.

 

All lawsuits are stressful.  The outcome is uncertain and preparation itself can leave you drained.  Just remember, you are as prepared as you can ever possibly be and you are here because you believe your actions were the best actions, in a particular situation.  If you give off a sense of confidence to your opposing party, they may be the one who winds up feeling the pressure of the stress.

Questions to Ask Your Lawyer

Anytime you have a legal issue, you are going to have plenty of questions and there is no one more qualified to answer those questions than your attorney.  Finding yourself in a situation in which you are involved in a lawsuit is stressful enough without constantly worrying about the next steps.  Depending on the reason for the lawsuit, your case could drag on for years.  So, instead of worrying and trying to figure out what your next move is going to be, bend your attorney’s ear for a bit and feel free to ask as many questions as possible.

 

Statutes

 

If you have ever seen a book of statutes, you know that they can be thick volumes full of legalese that most laypeople don’t understand.  The fact is that your attorney went to school for years in order to learn how to read and interpret these laws and your attorney will have a firm understanding of what they are reading.  That is why it is important that you ask your attorney about the statutes and case law upon which he is depending on to build the backbone of your defense.  You need to understand these laws and how they affect you and your case.

 

Legal Process

 

The legal process is a slow moving machine full of holes that sometimes lead nowhere.  Our court system is so clogged with lawsuits that it can take years before your case is even heard by a jury.  Sometimes this can get a bit frustrating and your patience will wear thin.  However, if you discuss the process with your attorney before the suit gets underway, you will be better prepared to expect the delays that can come along with the process.  Not only that, your attorney can even explain the legal process that your case will go through step by step, just to make sure that there are no surprises waiting for you.

 

Your attorney wants to provide you with the best defense possible.  This is a much tougher job when a client is confused about what the situation actually is or does not have a clear understanding of the laws that will help them win their case.  By keeping in constant contact with your attorney and asking him any questions that come to mind, you can truly be a part of your own defense.  Considering lawsuits generally play with large stakes, you want to win.

Don’t Let An Injury On The Job Stop You From Pursuing Legal Action

It’s probably true that, should you be injured on the job, you will receive some sort of Workmen’s Comp.  If you have ever had to exist on Workmen’s Comp, you already know that disability pay is a mere pittance of what your normal salary is.  Disability doesn’t make ends meet, particularly when most people are struggling to make ends meet these days, with their full salaries.  If you were injured on the job as a result of any kind of negligence on the part of your employer, there is absolutely no reason that you should have to completely and totally settle for the Workmen’s Comp pay and nothing more.

 

 Hurt on the Job? First Things First

 

The first things you need to worry about if you are injured on the job is your safety.  And, no it’s not too late for that.  Just because you’re hurt doesn’t mean that you can’t be hurt further, so do everything you can to make sure that a bad situation doesn’t get any worse.  The next thing you need to do is notify someone, before you pass out.  This is not to say that you’re always going to pass out, but there is always that chance so make sure that you step away from whatever machinery you might be working on, rather than falling into it.  That sort of goes along with removing yourself from a damaging situation, however.  Ideally, you’re going to want to inform a supervisor, but informing the closest person may be your only option at the time, depending on how badly you’ve been injured.  Depending on how serious your injury actually is you will also need to fill out in accident report, either immediately or soon.  Most workplaces have very strict stipulations upon how long after your accident you actually have to fill out those forms.  A 24 to 48 hour post injury time frame is usually the case.

 

 What Happens after the Fact?

 

It is important to receive treatment for your injury, as soon as possible.  Don’t be surprised if you are subjected to a urinalysis, because that is standard protocol after a job-related accident.  Hopefully, you have nothing to worry about.  If you do test positive for something that should not have been in your system while you were working, you’re going to have a real fight on your hands.

 

Regardless of whether or not you were at fault, your employer was at fault, or a combination of both of you… Don’t hesitate to at least check with a lawyer, to see what they advise.  Particularly with lawyers that work on a contingency basis; they will let you know if they feel you have a real case and are likely to benefit from a lawsuit.

The Last Victim of the USS Indianapolis

The USS Indianapolis was sunk by a Japanese submarine on July 30th, 1945, just months before the grim conclusion of World War II, to which the ship’s crew had contributed mightily by delivering materials for the atomic bomb to Tinian Island. It wasn’t that nobody noticed that the Portland-class cruiser hadn’t arrived at port; due to the secretive nature of its mission, the Indianapolis was left off the books. So when she went under, taking 300 men down and casting 900 more into the sea, nobody seemed to notice.

The Stuff of Hollywood

Even if only from the monologue of Quint, the scary fishing boat captain played so well by Robert Shaw in Jaws, a good many people now know about the fate of the Indianapolis. Out of nearly 900 men who survived the torpedo attack, only 318 were pulled from the waters. Some drowned or died of exposure in the brutal elements, but an estimated 500 of them were eaten by sharks over the course of three and a half days before the men were spotted and saved.

Miscarriage of Justice

The last major warship to be lost in World War II, the Indianapolis was captained by Charles B. McVay III. Curiously, the U.S. Navy found him fit to be the only captain to court-martialed for losing a ship during wartime. They determined that he had not taken sufficient evasive action (specifically failing to “zigzag”), thereby placing his ship and his crew in danger. But even the Japanese sub commander later stated that such maneuvers would not have prevented him from slamming two torpedoes into the Indy’s starboard bow.

McVay was found on his lawn in 1968, having killed himself with his service revolver, a toy sailor clutched in his other hand. Although the Navy records have never been officially changed, McVay received an official Conressional exoneration in 2000, in hopes of reversing what many military and legal historians consider to be a miscarriage of justice. After all, even though a few of the victims’ families chose to blame him even long after the war had ended, the captain had spent every minute in those deadly waters with his men.

Indiana Livestock Farmers v. Frivolous Lawsuits

A recent bill which is working its way through the final passages in the Indiana state legislature in Indianapolis would require those who file (and lose) frivolous lawsuits against livestock farmers to pay for their opponents’ legal fees. Environmentalists contend that this law will have a chilling effect on residents who would otherwise be compelled to file legitimate complaints. And judges never appreciate having their leeway taken away from them.

Not Just about the Smell

The farmers of hogs and cattle are certainly happy to see it pass, especially since those sectors of the agricultural industry contribute heavily to those majority GOP members who wrote and passed the bill. There are many reasons to file a civil suit against a large, corporate livestock farm. The noise and the smell are only nuisances compared to the kind of damage that can be done to aquifers and watersheds if regulations are ignored or not enforced.

Really Necessary?

Indeed, there have only been 10 “nuisance” lawsuits brought against such farms in the past decade, according to Kim Ferraro, the water policy director of the Hoosier Environmental Council. None of them, she notes, were dismissed by judges as frivolous. Since Indiana is home to more than 2,000 industrial livestock farms, she wonders why there is all such concern over frivolous lawsuits, which seem not to exist in any Indiana courtroom. “The idea,” she says, “Is to intimidate.”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Bill Friend (R-Macy), actually crafted it to cover all farms in Indiana, not just those that raise livestock. He believes there is a need to protect farmers from groundless litigation which, he asserts, is designed only to interfere with their operations. While the focus of this bill is farming, says the bill’s co-sponsor, the pro-corporate legislature hopes to expand such protections to all Indiana businesses in the future.

Unsolved Murders Haunt Indianapolis Police

Every major city has its share of unsolved murders, “cold cases” that remain in the filing cabinets even though no new evidence has appeared in years or even decades, even if nobody in the department was there when the slayings took place. Indianapolis is no exception, not just with regard to cold cases, but with regard to far too many unsolved murders in recent years. There are a few, however, that have remained on the books long after the pages yellowed with age.

The LaSalle Street Murders

In 1971, a pair of young businessmen, Bob Gierse and Bob Hinson, ran a microfilm business in Indianapolis. They were also roommates, sharing a bachelor pad (1318 N. LaSalle Street) where a friendly competitor, James Barker, also hung out frequently. It was there that all three men were found, bound and gagged, with their throats cut. Gierse and Hinson had known Mafia associates (some of their microfilm equipment turned out to have been stolen), and had definitely stepped on plenty of people’s toes with their swinging lifestyle. There were other suspects but no arrests.

The Burger Chef Murders

Seven years later, a case shocked the public even more, as it involved the murder of four young Burger Chef employees in Speedway, Indiana. They were apparently kidnapped during a robbery, taken to a rural area and slain: Two by gunshot, one by stabbing, and one from a vicious beating with a chain. Although nobody was ever arrested, there were a number of strong suspects, but not enough evidence. Several of those suspects wound up in prison for other crimes, but detectives regret not having been able to solve the Burger Chef Murders of 1978.

One case that sat dormant for years, but finally resulted in a perpetrator being locked up, was the case of Dawn Marie Stuard (a 13-year old girl who was raped and murdered in 1986). The police suspected Paul Reese Sr., a career criminal whose son Brian had followed in his father’s footsteps. Stuard knew Reese’s daughter, and was believed to have been at his house the day she disappeared. After Reese’s arrest for his role in his son’s killing spree in 2008, his DNA was linked to the Stuard murder, and he was jailed in 2011 pending trial.

Indiana’s Most Infamous Female Death Row Inmate

Paula Cooper was a 15-year old street tough from Gary, Indiana when she took part in the 1986 robbery and murder of a 78-year old Bible school teacher named Ruth Pelke, stabbing the woman 33 times. Her three partners in the crime all received lengthy prison sentences after pleading guilty, but even though she also plead guilty, Paula Cooper was sentenced to death and sent to the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis.

The Ultimate Price

The Indiana Women’s Prison was the first of its kind in our country, and was also the first maximum-security women’s facility in the United States. It also had the distinction of hiring the first female warden in American prison history. The death penalty has always been a part of Indiana legal lore except during a brief spell in the 1970s. One of the peculiarities of the state law was the fact that children as young as 10 could be charged with murder and sentenced to death.

Public Outcry

In Cooper’s case, this meant death by the electric chair, considered by some to be cruel and unusual punishment. This was at a turning point in the way the world viewed capital punishment; France had barely discontinued use of the Guillotine, and Utah was less than a decade removed from executing murderer Gary Gilmore by way of firing squad. The use of lethal injection had yet to become widespread, with most states using either electrocution or the gas chamber as means of execution.

Following a 60 Minutes expose on the teenage death row inmate, an outpouring of protest began on Cooper’s behalf, beseeching the Indiana courts for mercy in the form of commutation. Even the grandson of her victim made public expressions of forgiveness toward her. Even Pope John Paul II lobbied on behalf, and in 1989, her sentenced to 60 years; with time off for good behavior and time served, she will be eligible for parole in 2013. In this way, Paula Cooper avoided being the only female inmate to be executed since 1900.

Abraham Lincoln among Those Who Call Indiana Home

While Indianapolis has seen its fair share of excellent attorneys arguing important cases before judges and juries for over 200 years now, one of the more notable attorneys ever to call Indiana their home was famous for much more than his litigation skills, that being Abraham Lincoln. Our country’s 16th President was brought to Indiana from Kentucky by his father in 1916. While the move was in part an altruistic one, in opposition to Kentucky’s pro-slavery stance, Lincoln himself said it was due to difficulty in acquiring a land title there.

Frontier Roots

Though he was only eight years old, he was bigger than most boys his age, and the simple fact was that his father had staked out uncut forest land that had to be cleared. Lincoln’s palms were worn by an axe handle until he was 23 years old. He described Indiana at the time of his upbringing as “a wild region, with many bears and other wild animals still in the woods.” He tried hunting, in addition to farm work, but Honest Abe later confessed that he’d never bagged anything bigger than a wild turkey.

“Careless of His Attire, Ungraceful in His Movements”

Lincoln received very little in the way of a formal education, as such was not a huge priority in the early days of frontier settlement. He acquired his knowledge (and his law degree) on his own. It was the combination of Republicans in both Illinois and Indiana that pushed Lincoln to the nomination in 1860, after the Illinois congressman made a trip to Indianapolis, at a time when neither State had enough  of a delegation presence to influence the convention in Chicago.

The City of Indianapolis honors President Lincoln in the way that the State of Indiana best remembers him – as a lad, barefoot, a stack of books clutched in one large hand, as depicted in the publicly-displayed bronze statue, Young Abe Lincoln (David K. Rubins, 1962). The statue graces the grounds of the Indiana Government Center in Indianapolis, a stone’s throw away from the Indiana Statehouse.

Who Is To Blame?

Getting into an accident can be one of the worst things you ever have to endure especially if you are hurt. If you are not to blame for the accident and the other person was being careless then you have the right to sue. In order to sue another person or an insurance company you need to have legal representation. Hiring a really good personal injury attorney in Indianapolis is going to be one of the best things you can do in the beginning of this whole horrific ordeal.

Determining Who Was At Blame

Even if you think you are not a blame you always need to get a police report. The police will analyze everything at the crime scene and document it in a report. Your attorney is going to need the police report to gather information and make a decision on whether or not you were to blame. If any mistakes were made, your lawyer will pick them up and be able to expose them in a court of law.

Suing For A Settlement

Another important part of starting a lawsuit is suing the opposing party. Be sure you ask for a realistic number because you do not want a lawsuit to last any longer than it needs to be. If the number you ask for is realistic then it makes things much easier and the possible be able to end sooner. That is a good thing because any type of lawsuit can be very stressful to deal with.

There’s always the blame game anytime an accident has happened. You always need to stick to your guns and be sure you are completely honest with what happened in the situation. Hopefully your lawsuit goes well and you are able to settle your case out of court.