by David F. Walbert
Many lawyers feel that an opening statement is the most critical part of your trial. Cases may be won or lost at opening.
According to the most extensive study ever done of the american jury, researchers concluded that eighty percent of the jurors will decide liability by the end of opening statements, and will not change their minds. “The University of Chicago Jury Research Study,” H. Kalven and H. Zeisel (1966).
I don’t personally subscribe to the finding of Kalven and Zeisel. I think their research more showed that jurors render a verdict in accord with their initial impression if the trial plays out according to the opening statement. Whichever is true, it is unquestionably true that a strong opening statement is very important. As often in life, you only get one chance to make a good first impression. It is certainly true that, if your opening statement is a poor one, or if you tell the jury you are going to prove things that you can’t and don’t, you are really playing with fire, and it is hard to come back from that kind of a start.