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6 Worst Ways to Start an Opening Statement

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By William Vogeler, Esq. on July 20, 2018 1:57 PM

Where to begin?

It's a question that precedes every opening statement or argument. The answer, if a lawyer turns it into an effective introduction, can be gold.

Unfortunately, half the attorneys who go into court come out losers. With apologies for those who fail, here's a look at the worst ways to get started.

1. "Your Honor"

Really? Did you not see the judge's name on the bench?

"Your honor" is supposed to be a respectful appellation. But starting with "your honor" is really generic for, "I don't know how to pronounce your name."

It could also be imprecise because historically "your honor" applied only to certiain judges. Others were called "Sir" or "Madam," but be careful with that.

2. "I'll Be Brief"

It's not good to start out with a lie. Judges hear "I'll be brief" so often they have learned how not to roll their eyes.

Plus, the moment they hear it they start timing. At about the five-minute mark, the word "sanctions" begins to form in their minds.

3. "May It Please the Court"

It never "pleases" the court, unless your introductory statement is more interesting than that.

Not to mention, "may it please the court" is the most rookie of all throat-clearing clauses. Take the time to say something original and it may actually please the court.

4. "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury"

This is where introductions get interesting these days. If you know anything about LGBTQ, some gender references may be offensive.

"Q," for example, doesn't mean what it used to mean. Some say, "queer" and some say "questioning."

5. "There Once Was a Man from Nantucket"

The oldest intro in the book is a joke. Seriously, it's a joke.

But it will not go well if a judge or jury has already heard it. In other words, you will die up there if nobody thinks you're funny.

6. "I Will be Representing Myself in This Case"

This one is no joke, and everybody knows that: "The man who represents himself has a fool for a client."

Sooo many people -- including lawyers -- have bombed in that situation. It's especially risky in criminal court, where you will be convicted if you say:

"Your honor, I'll be brief. May it please the court, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. There once was a man from Nantucket."

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