PROVIDING A POINT OF VIEW
Another important aspect of effective oration involves having your audience view the situation from a particular point of view. Just as authors must decide if a book should be presented as a first-person account of the events as told by one of the characters as opposed to the third-person account of a narrator, the skilled trial lawyer must choose the perspective from which the facts should be viewed by the jury.
While a trial lawyer typically wants the jury to view the case from the point of view of his own client, when introducing the topic of liability, it can be advantageous to focus on the point of view of the opposing party for the purpose of explaining and detailing its improper conduct.
Imagine a products liability case in which an automobile manufacturer produced a car with a propensity to roll over. The accident in question caused deaths and serious injury to different family members. In giving an opening statement to a jury, it may seem natural, and even powerful, to begin the opening statement by describing the life that this family was leading up until this horrible accident. Before offering that description, however, it may be useful to focus the jury's attention on the conduct of the defendants:
Three years ago, 16 men and women sat in a boardroom no bigger than this courtroom. They were some of the most powerful and wealthy men and women in this country, and had been entrusted with the responsibility to serve as the Board of Directors for ABC Car Company. An issue came before them -- the SUVs that they were manufacturing had a tendency to roll over in an accident, endangering the lives of the very people who were buying their product. A solution to this dangerous problem was available, and they were told it could be implemented with a cost of just $200 per vehicle. That day, the representatives of that car company had a choice: spend a little money and make their product safe, or save a few bucks, and put a dangerous vehicle on the roads of our country. They were faced with a clear choice, and they made a clear decision: Don't worry about the dangers, don't think about the horrible accidents that will occur, forget about the lives that will be lost, and instead let's save some money. That decision is why we are here today.
The respective viewpoints of the parties can be compared and contrasted in order to bring home the stark difference in circumstances between your client and your adversary. After laying out the negligence of the defendants, the description of the plaintiff's family will be much more powerful:
While the men and women of ABC Corp. made their fateful business decision, Mr. and Mrs. Smith went about the business of raising a family. They worked hard, bought a house and were blessed with three happy, healthy children. Everything they had worked for changed in an instant on the day of this accident.
USING THE PRESENT TENSE
By definition, at any trial the events that the attorneys are discussing occurred in the past. Accordingly, it seems proper and natural to describe the events in the past tense. The use of the present tense, however, has the effect of bringing the listener into the story and allowing the jurors to feel the immediacy of the action.
For example, imagine a straightforward drunken driving case in which a driver and bar are being faulted for causing an accident. A present tense "grabber" is used to start the opening: