Show the judge why your case is worthwhile.
By Kenneth G. Raggio – Family Lawyer (Texas)
Who Is Your Audience?
The judge has been hearing “the same old story” for a long time, for a lot of weeks and months, in a lot of hearings in cases, and a lot of trials. While the judge will do her best to put the pieces together as the trial unfolds, the best time to put your case forward is in an effective, well-planned opening statement. Show the judge why your case is worth listening to and why your position is meritorious.
An effective opening statement will combine sight and sound to break up the monotony that is the judge’s curse of “lawyers talking.” Showing the judge what is going on from your perspective as the case starts can often help determine the outcome of the proceedings in a favorable manner.
The “assisted” opening statement entails using technology to assist you in your presentation. A simple form is merely a typewritten listing of the high points of the case, of the witnesses, expected testimony, legal disagreements, and perhaps even a suggested division shared with the judge and opposing counsel. This is a fairly mundane, yet potentially effective, presentation. Using prints or slides or overheads is a variation on the same theme.
However, computer tools have become more powerful and easier to use to where even sophisticated technology is now not only “lawyer proof” but is “lawyer friendly.” The name brand of a computer or a software package or doesn’t really matter; they are all variations on the same theme of creating a “multimedia presentation” package. The components of a multi-media package include:
- Notebook computer with /CD burner, video and digital inputs/outputs
- Presentation software such as PowerPoint or Presentation
- Digital still camera
- Mini-DV camcorder
- Speciality timeline/charting software
- Fast internet access.
Not all tools will be used in all cases; so when planning your assisted opening statement, go through the analysis that you would make with any opening statement:
- What do I want the judge to know about my case?
- What is unique about my case?
- What egregious facts/positions can I have on the opposing party?
- How can I combine sight and sound to demonstrate this?
- How can I make my presentation bulletproof?
- Can I get my entire presentation completed within the Court’s allocated time limits?
- Does the Court have equipment on site that I can plug into?
Our friends in the P.I. practice have pioneered the use of tools for us; many P.I. lawyers have even formed their own A.V./litigation support firms to specially produce major presentations. If your budget and/or fear factor support it, get professional help. Otherwise, combining some or all of the following elements can make a compelling presentation:
- A video clip with a damning statement (“her job in those early years was primarily to screw me”)
- Images of documents with key phrases blown up and highlighted
- Timeline of events
- Factors indicating why the Court should rule your way on particular issues including attorney’s fees
- Be accurate in your depiction.
- Be sure your key assertions will be covered by competent, admissible evidence.
- Don’t oversell.
- Have your script prepared to read, and handouts of your images and slides for backup if your high-tech show crashes for any reason.
A frequent author and lecturer on Family Law topics to state, national and international family law organizations, and selected by his peers for inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America and Texas Best Lawyers 2011, Ken Raggio is a quoted source of legal information in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Times, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Child, Canada’s National Post, and The Texas Lawyer, among others. He is a past Chairman of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section and is also one of six private practitioners in the U. S. named to the Board of Advisors for the American Law Institute’s Restatement of Family Law Project.
 Only Texas and Georgia allow juries in Family Law cases; an opening statement to a jury should give them a “front row seat” preview. Remember a jury has seen “Law & Order,” etc., and has unreasonably high expectations of a lawyer in a trial. Don’t let them down in the opening statement. Having said that, jury trials are rare.
 It is rare that a Court won’t have some AV equipment available. Check it out. Make sure your computer will display on the Court’s equipment.
 Besides, it’s an expense in a contingent fee practice and therefore can be recovered in addition to attorney’s fees.