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Should a Lawyer Give a One Hour Opening Argument

Jul 12, 2015 | Medical Malpractice

In your medical malpractice trial in New York, where there are many details and facts that the jury needs to know and consider, should your lawyer give a two-hour opening argument at the beginning of the trial?

A Long Opening Argument is most Likely Imprudent

The answer is no, your lawyer need not be giving a two-hour opening argument, because he simply needs to distill the facts down into two sentences or just a few more. He needs to condense your entire case into one or two paragraphs. The jury will not want to listen to your lawyer for two hours who is telling them every single detail that he is going to prove during the course of the trial. Or attempt to prove.

This could be considered rambling and it is unwise for an attorney to open up a case in this manner. The jury wants to listen to testimony, they want evidence, they want to see the drama and hear what is going on. They do not want to hear your lawyer talk endlessly about what is going to happen during the course of the trial. First off, no one can predict the future and no one wants to hear someone act like they can.

It is unwise to attempt to think for someone else, certainly an adult.

Jury Likes to Hear the Condensed Version

Besides, the judge, at the very beginning, before your lawyer has a chance to get up and make his opening remarks, the judge is going to give the jury preliminary instructions to just let them know about what is going to happen during the course of the trial. Now, when your lawyer is going to get up to speak to the jury, during the first few moments, he should let the jury know about the case.

He should dive right into the story because that will be compelling, interesting, and that will keep the jury engaged. This is an excellent way to start. Your lawyer would want the jury to know immediately about what the issue is-what the clear dispute is in this case.

Every medical practice case has a dispute. One side will claim that the doctor has violated the basic standards of medical care, while the doctor or the hospital is going to claim he did not. A dispute is what the jury needs to know about, they need to know why you believe you are more likely right than wrong, and what you are claiming is true. Your lawyer will have to tell the jury immediately what happened.

Here is a typical opening argument how it should be:

"My client is 22 years old, and she complained to the doctor about the lump in her breast. The doctor said it was not a big deal, and was unable to detect breast cancer…."

Here the lawyer is directly launching into the story to tell the jury exactly what happened, and within a few moments, the jury is going to know what the dispute is and why the victim believes the doctor had departed from good and expected medical care. On the other hand, if the lawyer goes into a long drawn out speech, the jury is not only going to be bored, but also most likely going to miss the main dispute of the case. This could be a disaster for your case.

Freedom of Choice

Hence, the lawyer is free to offer a long opening argument, but that will most probably work against him and his client in the long run, and perhaps in the short run too.