The last time the jury hears from the lawyers in the trial is called the closing argument. After the lawyers finish their closing arguments, the Judge will instruct the jury on the law and then the case is completely in the jury’s “hands.” Therefore, closing argument (sometimes called “summation”) is the last opportunity for the lawyer to convince the jury that his client’s cause is just.
As for the process of the closing argument, the Plaintiff’s lawyer will go first followed by the attorney for the Defendant. Sometimes, after the attorney for the Defendant gives his closing argument, the Plaintiff’s lawyer is allowed to give a “second” closing argument called a rebuttal argument. The reason for this is because the Plaintiff has the burden of proof; therefore he or she has the right to open and close the final stage of the trial to the jury. However, quite frankly, another purpose of the rebuttal argument is to allow the Plaintiff’s lawyer to correct or clarify anything the Defense lawyer said that was factually or legally in error.
Most lawyers recognize that jurors want to do the right thing. Therefore, lawyers will try to use closing argument to align the case with the jury’s core beliefs. For example, if the case involves significant social issues such as race or religion, the lawyer will probably address them directly. But the primary emphasis will always be the jurors’ function as the sole judges of facts.
As a result, during closing argument, a lawyer must make the jury feel comfortable with the facts and they should know what the facts are and what they mean. In reality, the Plaintiff’s lawyer will try to “stream line” the facts to assist the jury-a task which is much more difficult than it sounds. After all, even the most “routine” case may have several doctors, different experts, and complex medical terminology. Therefore, the Defense lawyer usually will try to complicate the facts and “poke holes” in the Plaintiff’s facts to confuse the jury to rule in the Defense’s favor.
It is a difficult but important task for the Plaintiff’s lawyer to unite the entire trial’s different elements into a coherent whole — with the facts cast in terms of right and wrong, acceptable conduct versus unacceptable conduct.
A closing argument should relate to the jury and be sincere. Too often, lawyers go beyond what was shown in trial, make personal attacks on the other side (both the lawyer and his client) and even try to appeal to prejudices. Usually, a jury will see past these desperate attempts and focus on the facts.
Other than “summing up” the facts for the jury, a lawyer during a closing argument may also quote what a witness stated during trial. The lawyer may refer to exhibits or other evidence which was shown to the jury during trial. Of course, each trial is different and this may not happen, but quotations and references to prior evidence may help the jury understand oftentimes difficult facts.
Of course, during the closing argument, money will be discussed. However, the jury has heard about or seen bills from medical providers, perhaps the Plaintiff’s income statements, health insurance payments and even automobile medical payments. However, during the closing, the Plaintiff’s lawyer will put those numbers into context; meaning that the Plaintiff’s lawyer will ask for his/her client to have his/her past medical expenses paid. Also, the Plaintiff’s lawyer will ask for his/her client’s future medical bills as well. Naturally, it seems fair that when a Plaintiff has been injured to have their medical bills paid for. There is often great divergence between the Plaintiff and Defendant when they argue about non-economic damages such as emotional distress.
This is one of the most difficult aspects of the closing argument. However, while it would be effective, the Plaintiff’s lawyer cannot ask a juror to put himself in the Plaintiff’s shoes. Rather, the Plaintiff’s lawyer must relay what the Plaintiff has undergone since being injured. Perhaps the jury will hear stories about how the Plaintiff cannot lift her grandchild anymore or throw a baseball with his son.
Naturally, the Defense attorney disagrees as to what the injured Plaintiff is entitled to. Rather, they will argue in summation that the Plaintiff is entitled to little if anything, or just the medical bills. If the Defense is forced to admit that the Plaintiff is entitled to non-economic damages (which inevitable means that the Plaintiff is seriously injured) then of course he will argue that the amount should be minimal. While in all likelihood insurance is paying for the Defendant’s lawyer and will pay the verdict, the Defense attorney may focus on his client, “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” as sympathetic. Invariably, he will down play the extent of the Plaintiff’s injuries and suffering.
As you can see, there is a lot of information that both lawyers should put into a closing argument. The lawyers must summarize witness testimony, expert testimony, medical diagnosis and jargon, all the while weaving pertinent facts into the closing argument and relaying what the hurt and injured Plaintiff is entitled to; and to do this without “losing” the jury.
Like the role of the jury, this is no small task.