Your team’s closing argument just needs to do two things: tell your story and explain why your story is better than your opponent’s.
1. Tell Your Team’s Story
a. First, Talk About the Case
The attorney responsible for your team’s closing argument should start by explaining the case as they see it, using their own words. They should pretend they’re telling the story to a friend.
I suggest students record themselves as they tell the story, then play the recording back to see how they tell the story. It’s easier to tell a story in an engaging way if it’s told verbally instead of written out.
b. Second, Add Evidence
Then, for each part of the story that your student tells, they need to explain how the evidence supports that part of the story. They should remind the judge of the testimony they heard and the exhibits they saw.
i. Consider Using Cross Examinations
Your team could look back at their cross examinations and make a list of all the testimony they expect from the opposing witnesses. If any of the other team’s witnesses will testify to a fact that supports your team’s story, add that testimony to your team’s closing. Your team’s story is much stronger when your team can argue that even their opponent agrees with them on a few key points.
And if possible, the attorney delivering your closing argument should incorporate a few quotes from the witnesses. Your trial attorneys should work together during the trial to take notes as the witnesses testify. When a witness on the other team gives testimony that’s really helpful, they should try to write down the exact words the witness said.
2. Explain Why Your Story Is Better Than Your Opponent’s
Every closing argument should include, well…argument! In an opening statement, your team gives a preview of what the evidence will be. But in a closing argument, it won’t just recap what the evidence was.
After your closing attorney tells your team’s story, they will then explain why the judge should believe your team’s story, not your opponent’s. Your closing attorney should tell the judge why your team’s evidence is more credible and more reliable than your opponent’s. Here are five ways to do this.
a. Cast Doubt on Your Opponent’s Case Theory
A closing argument for the defense team typically argues that there’s plenty of reasonable doubt in the prosecution’s case. And a prosecution’s closing will argue that the doubt the defense tries to raise is not reasonable at all.
Often, in mock trial fact patterns, one team’s case theory depends on a lot of unrelated events happening at the same time, or on circumstances that seem too coincidental. If this can be said of your opponent’s case theory, point it out in your closing argument.
b. Attack the Reliability of Your Opponent’s Witness(es)
If any of your opponent’s witnesses is unreliable, your team should point that out to the judge. For example, if your opponent’s witness’s testimony is contradicted by more than one piece of evidence, your team should say so in its closing argument.
c. Attack the Bias of Your Opponent’s Witness(es)
If an opposing witness has a motivation to lie, you definitely want to call them out! Again, cite to (and quote, if possible) testimony given and admissions made during their cross examination.
d. If a Witness Was Impeached, Question Their Credibility
Getting the chance to impeach a witness is rare, and the opportunity is kind of wasted if it’s not discussed in closing argument.
Here’s a quick formula for doing this:
- Note that your opponent relies on testimony from a particular witness [name the witness].
- Remind the judge that the witness was impeached during cross-examination.
- Explain how the witness’s testimony did not match their witness statement.
- Tell the judge that the witness can’t keep their story straight and suggest that nothing they say should be believed.
e. Explain why your witnesses are credible and/or unbiased.
After your closing attorney points out all the ways your opponent’s evidence is bad, they explain why your evidence is better. They should explain how your team’s witnesses give consistent testimony or how they are more credible than your opponent’s.
To summarize, your team’s closing argument should start by telling your story, including references to evidence presented at trial. Your closing argument should then give some arguments about why the judge should believe your story, and not your opponent’s.
Hope you find this quick guide to be helpful. Next time, we’ll dive a little bit more into closing arguments and go over an example. Until then, feel free to reach out with any questions!