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Recap: 2016 All-Ohio Legal Forum Session on Opening Statements
Posted in Litigation

On April 28, 2016, Daniel J. Donnellon (Cincinnati) accepted an invitation to be an esteemed panelist for a presentation on effective opening statements as part of the Ohio State Bar Association’s All Ohio Legal Forum. Judge Michael Donnelly (Cleveland) and two other seasoned trial lawyers from across The Buckeye State joined Dan on the panel; their session focused on exploring methods to craft and deliver an excellent and memorable opening statement during a trial.

Recap: 2016 All-Ohio Legal Forum Session on Opening Statements

During the “Introducing Your Case: Strategies for an Impactful and Effective Opening Statement” session, the audience of well over 100 participants was treated to five compelling opening statements from real cases that were no more than 20 minutes in length. The two civil cases (plaintiff and defense) and three criminal cases (one prosecution) involved five very different, effective styles. Each trial lawyer presented a compelling story of their theory of the case, and used themes and labels to engrain the details in the minds of the fact-finder, all without “arguing” the case.

The panel then provided commentary on what elements of the opening statements were most effective, and a few tips on what should have been omitted or stated differently. All panelists confirmed that the opening statement is quite often the most important part of a trial, either bench or jury.

  • Since voir dire can be limited, opening statement is the first opportunity to establish credibility, personalize the litigants, and develop a narrative that will allow the fact-finder to piece together the evidence in a manner that persuades them to select your client as the victor.
  • For juries, empirical research shows that 87 percent of jurors say the “impression” they formed about the case after opening statement was consistent with their ultimate vote in the case after deliberations.
  • Accordingly, making that first impression in a forcible way is essential because it gives the fact-finder a moral imperative through which to view the evidence as it comes in.

Virtually all of the audience members were impressed by the very different styles of opening statements, each of which was equally convincing, presented during the session and gave rave reviews. The Ohio Bar Association said they intend to do another All Ohio Legal Forum on tips to be an effective trial lawyer in 2017, thanks in part to the successful session.

Dan has devoted nearly 30 years of his practice to trial work concentrating on complex business and product liability actions. He is the author of Ohio’s leading treatise on Civil Injunctions and taught Advanced Trial Advocacy at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. In 2013, he received an award for Outstanding Teaching Excellence from the law school Alumni Association.

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