What Movies Teach Us About Trial Practice - Part 3

We've been writing about trial tactic tips that we picked up from the movies, after seeing The Deep Blue Sea recently. The movie had lots of style but it was the trial tactic lessons that can be learned from the film that made it a real stand-out to us.

The first tip in this series was putting the end at the beginning, a way of mixing up the chronology of your opening statement in a way that can add drama and capture the Jury's attention from the very start.

The second tip explained the value of planting an Easter Egg in the evidence that allows your Jury to discover evidence in your favor without you leading them to it. After all, the truth of your case that the Jury discovers on its own will be far more compelling to them than anything the lawyers overtly say or do.

Another subtle point made in the movie, and this is our third tip in this series, and which can help your next Opening Statement is to bring the storyline full circle. Doing the same thing with your trial presentation can make your case a winner.

Have you ever heard a story or seen a movie that just comes to an end without really wrapping up the story with a conclusion? Did it leave you wondering what happened next? Well, human nature hates an incomplete story. It just isn't natural.

From childhood we are taught that every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Remember? The Big Bad Wolf gets it in the end. Hansel and Gretel escape and win out. Sleeping Beauty wakes up and all is well in the world.

You can use that natural story flow to satisfy your Jury that your presentation of the evidence is the truthful one in your trial. How? By bringing it full circle.

When you get to the end of your case, it often can drive the point home even harder if that ending moment takes the Jury right back to the beginning again. That's exactly why your Closing Argument should echo back to what you said in your Opening Statement. But you can do much more. You can also make sure that your last witness, and your last question, reminds the Jury of the case theme you announced at the beginning. Give them the last piece of the puzzle.

Perhaps the best use, however, is to bring the Jury right back to the injustice that you pointed out at the beginning of your case. That tells the Jury that unless they change the ending, what the defendant did in your case will be repeated again and again. It can be a powerful way of nudging the Jury to make the world right by giving your client a verdict. By doing so, you are giving the Jury both the opportunity and the incentive to make the needed change. The Deep Blue Sea is a film that does that too.

The movie opens with a slow pan of an old home in London in the 1950's as night falls. A woman walks out the front door and puts milk bottles down on her doorstep for the milkman to pick up the next day. A man finishes smoking his cigarette and flips it into the street and goes back inside. The camera pans up and there in a dark window, seen from the night outside, is the shadow of a woman peering out into the dark. The scene sets the stage to know that life outside that room may be normal but something inside that room is dark and ominous.

At the end of the movie, a woman is shown looking out that window. The camera shows her in daylight and pans out and down to reveal last night's smoker leaving his apartment for work, the woman coming out to retriev her now-full set of milk bottles to start the day, and the camera pans right to reveal the shambles of a building next door as people begin to come out into the street. It is the exact opposite of how the movie started. We see life on the street returning to normal again as the movie has come full circle. We know that life inside that upstairs room is still not normal, but we are satisfied that life as we see it is returning to normal.

The "moral" of your case, the theme if you wish to call it that, always should be set out in your Opening Statement clearly in the first few minutes of your presentation and repeated at the end of it. And in your Closing Argument, bring the Jury full circle by bringing them back, subtly but earnestly, to that again. A story well told is one that has a beginning, a middle and an end. You can mix the parts up somewhat to add drama, but be careful you don't lose the Jury in the process. And always bring them back home again.

Ron Burdge
Helping lawyers help people