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10 Very Specific How-To's for Last-Minute Pre-Trial Prep

Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.
By: Kenneth J. Lopez, J.D.

Trial Technicians, Litigation Graphics, Trial Presentation, Courtroom Presentations, Demonstrative Evidence, Hot Seat Operators, Trial Technology, Trial Preparation, Practice, PowerPoint, Opening

Almost every day, our trial-lawyer litigation graphics consultants and our jury consultants are working to help a trial team to develop, refine, and practice their opening statements. We do this nationwide, often hundreds of times a year. Every trial team is different.

One team, I recently had the pleasure of working with asked me for a model of what the best trial presenters do a week or two before trial. They didn't come out and ask that specific question, but they asked a lot of specific questions like:

  • To practice, do we just print our opening from Word and read it?
  • How do we integrate the slides when practicing?
  • Do we print out the PowerPoint slides, and what about the animations where the text overlaps when we print?
  • Should I read the opening or memorize it?
  • Should we just work from bulleted phrases?
  • Do I use the slides as cues for what to say next?
  • Should I run the presentation as first-chair?

These are great questions! Fortunately, there are specific best-practices that answer each of these questions. For our litigation consultants and for our clients who go to trial often (1x/year+), many of these are second nature. For most, however, there will be a tip or two of very high-value below.

Here are 10 best practices and tips for the period of time immediately before trial:

1. It should look like this when you are done. Put your politics aside for a second. The impeachment trial presentations were not the very best I've ever seen, but they were certainly good enough. If you use the trial presentation style from the impeachment trials, you are well on your way towards excellence.

But, in particular, I want you to watch a minute or so of two videos and consider three elements: 1. How trial presentation notebooks are used; 2. Absolutely no use of a clicker; 3. The presentations complement what is being said and don't feel like a jarring interruption. Here is an example from each side of the impeachment trial. Watch about 60 seconds of each to see the presentation style.


2. The trial presentation notebook. I think a well-prepared trial presenter works toward (at a minimum) presenting in a way that looks like those trial lawyers above. They use PowerPoint and follow many best practices for doing so. See my four-part series on trial presentation lessons from the impeachment trial.

In particular, however, note that each trial lawyer presents from a trial presentation notebook. Their arguments are written out, PowerPoint slides are integrated into the language in Word, and this is printed out and placed in a three-ring binder so that the presenter never gets lost. They read their statements for the most part, but they also connect with their audiences. The printed version of your trial presentation notebook should look a bit like this as you head to trial:


As you can see, your demonstrative evidence and real evidence is integrated into your written opening. Also, pauses and reminders to the presenter are included in the text.

It's great when a trial lawyer memorizes their opening, but I find this only really works AFTER the entire opening has been written word-for-word in full-text form. I would MUCH rather watch a presenter who is organized and polished who reads than one wings it and stumbles about. I find that after one practices their opening from the written version enough, one cannot help but memorize it.

3. First chair really should not run the presentation.  I know you like to be in control. I know you might want to go back and say something. However, if you have practiced enough, none of that will happen, and control doesn’t matter anymore. Hand over the clicker/laptop, and you get to look polished and prepared. Please see Trial Lawyers, Relinquish the Clicker. When you have your trial presentation notebook printed and ready to go, your trial technician (or a colleague) can simply follow along and control the presentation.

4. Don't look at the screen.  I don’t like to see trial lawyers looking at the presentation screen. It's distracting and disconnecting. Also, one should never turn their back on a judge or a jury. Instead, use your notes in your trial presentation notebook, and let someone run your presentation for you. Connecting with your fact-finder(s) is critical, and there is no substitute for good eye contact and body language. If you hold the clicker and look at your slides, you will lose many opportunities to connect. See Lawyer Delivers Excellent PowerPoint Presentation.

5. Use the "B" key.  I’ve talked about this technique before, and it is one of the simplest and most effective things you can use as a courtroom presenter to create a connection with your judge and jury. Simply, when you are in slideshow-mode in PowerPoint, if you press the "B" key, your screen will go black. If you press it again, your presentation comes back.

This is important because you don't want to confuse your audience by leaving up a slide that is unrelated to what you are saying. Use the b-key to subtly tell your judge and jury to return their attention to what you are saying, not what you are showing. See 12 Ways to SUCCESSFULLY Combine Oral and Visual Presentations.

6. No, you should not use your slides to prompt you. Instead of relying on PowerPoint as a crutch to remember what you have to say or to remember what you are going to say next, rely on your trial presentation notebook. You will connect better with your audience and be more persuasive. Please read and watch the short video from three of the world's top trial lawyers in Still Think Persuasion is About Talking While Showing Bullet Points?

7. Develop your slides so you can print. Litigation graphics artists have a choice when they are developing animated slides (whether that's just a text build, a callout, or a sophisticated 2D animation) in PowerPoint. They can break out an animation over many slides, or they can jumble it all up on one slide. If they do the latter, they save a little time and make themselves indispensable. If they do the former, anyone can edit the slide, and the slides can be printed or easily integrated into a trial presentation notebook.

You want to work with a firm that does the latter, and you want to insist on this early when working with such a firm. Otherwise, you will run into hassles on the eve of trial trying to copy-paste an image into your opening notes or when you want to share a pdf version of your slides with opposing counsel.

8. Lockdown your opening text weeks before trial. It's tempting to make last-minute edits to your opening in the week before trial. It feels a little like law school, and most of us were all smart enough to be rewarded with good grades in spite of our procrastination. But just don't. Please. I promise the very best trial lawyers don't do this. Everything is choreographed and scripted and completed long in advance of trial. There is still a last-minute scramble, but that is focused mostly on motions and the like. Please read The #1 Reason Top Trial Teams Keep Winning.

9. Become best friends with your trial tech. Okay, maybe that's a stretch, but you really should get to a level where you are finishing each other's sentences. You want to have worked with your trial technician/hot-seat operator so often that you develop a sixth sense about what one another will do next. See Why Rapport Between a Trial Lawyer and a Trial Technician is So Important.

10. Just so much practice. I know I've said this same thing in hundreds of articles. I really have. And there is a reason for it. If you want to win, whether or not the facts and law are on your side, practice is your not-so-secret weapon. It is the one thing that can really win a case that perhaps should not be won. See The 13 Biggest Reasons to Avoid Last-Minute Trial Preparation, $300 Million of Litigation Consulting and Storytelling Validation, Practice is a Crucial Piece of the Storytelling Puzzle, and The Magic of a 30:1 Presentation Preparation Ratio.

Other A2L Consulting articles about trial preparation, opening statements, and the power of practice from A2L Consulting.

opening statements toolkit ebook download a2l

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