Attorney Sidebar: Peter Perlman on a Simple Approach to Opening Statements

~ Peter Perlman

I am straightforward and use everyday language. I make a conscious effort to avoid analogies like “the opening statement is like a roadmap” and “the opening statement is like a jigsaw puzzle, and as a case develops you’ll be able to see how the various pieces fit into this puzzle.” I prefer to use a direct approach and to simplify complicated or technical issues as much as possible. The roadmap and jigsaw puzzle references suggest that the case is complicated, and the average person is likely to be turned off by complicated explanations

~ Peter Perlman, “Opening Statements”, ATLA Press, 2007, page 41.

Comment:

In this small paperback, renown trial attorney Peter Perlman, addresses several of his opening statements by annotating them with comments and analysis.  Revelations into the inner workings of the law are rarely this specific and even more rarely memorialized in print.

This particular case dealt with a farm employee’s injuries when his arm was trapped in a corn-picker that had little to no modifications in design for 50 years.  However, the guidance of talking like a person, a real person, is critical.  Use simple terms if possible and don’t waste time on a long windup about roadmaps and puzzles which talk down to them (and most think this is adding clarity when it is potentially insulting, and even more insulting if involving matters within their common experiences and understanding such as automobile collisions or slip and falls.