Sources for Closing Argument Stories

During closing argument, you want to drive your arguments home to the jury.  It’s not persuasive to merely say, “The witness is wrong because she’s biased.”  You need to be able to help the jurors understand how that bias affected her testimony and why they shouldn’t believe her.  Before you start preparing your next closing argument, start collecting the stories and analogies that will help you persuade the jurors.  Here are nine resources to help you develop persuasive closing argument material:

1. Aesop’s Fables. Aesop’s Fables contains dozens of valuable themes for use in your next trial.   By weaving these fables into your closing argument, you’ll help jurors immediately understand the underlying values of your arguments and see why your client deserves to win.  The Tale of the Sour Grapes, the Tale of the Lioness and the Vixen, the Tale of the Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing — these stories will not only educate your jurors, they’ll also entertain them.

2. The Bible. I don’t know about you, but whenever I think of a persuasive “southern lawyer,” I envision an older, white haired gentleman wearing a seersucker suit, preaching to the jury in a southern drawl while pounding a well-worn leather bible on the rail of the jury box.  Quoting from the Bible in closing argument has been an effective persuasive tactic since…  well, since Biblical times, I guess.  Be aware of the caselaw in your local jurisdiction before quoting from the Bible (some courts explicitly frown upon the practice), but if you’re allowed, consider adding Biblical references to your closing argument.  You might employ entire stories, direct quotations of Biblical passages, or perhaps you’ll only allude to a “bite from the apple” or ask them not to “split the baby.”  If nothing else, at least read the entire book of Proverbs: It’s probably the best source of common sense arguments you’ll ever find.

3. Comic books. If you haven’t read Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Marvel’s Civil War series, or Alan Moore’s The Watchmen, you’re not only missing some great stories, you’re also missing out on some powerful themes and storylines that you can employ in your closing arguments.  In addition to these graphic novels, familiarize yourself with Superman and Lex Luthor, Prof. Xavier and Magneto, the Hulk and Bruce Banner, Spiderman and J. Jonah Jameson, and the rest of the comic book multiverse.  Life isn’t always “Good vs. Evil,” and neither are jury trials.  Comics can help you explain what jurors should do in those “gray” situations.

4. Things that happened to you in childhood. Take a few hours and write down the interesting stories of things that happened to you as a kid.  Did you ever take a candy bar without paying?  Get pushed around on the playground?  Look in the back of the algebra book for answers?  These type of stories resonate with jurors, because they usually have similar life experiences.  (It also helps to remind them that you weren’t always a lawyer!)  When you turn that candy bar story into an argument about why a witness is reluctant to tell the truth, or turn the algebra story into a compelling reason why your opponent’s expert fudged his work, jurors will have a better understanding of why your client should win.

5. Stories about your kids. Jurors want to listen to lawyers who they trust, so how can you show them that you’re trustworthy?  If you’ve got kids, you’ve got a shortcut for establishing your credibility with the jurors, because being a parent means that not only were you able to convince someone to tolerate you, you were able to convince them you were trustworthy enough to raise children.  All parents have similar stories of children saying “the darndest things,” blaming their siblings for broken items, and demonstrating (in the cutest way) dramatic life lessons.  Keep a written list of fun things your kids did and the lessons they taught you, and you’ll have an arsenal of compelling stories at your disposal.

6. Classic literature. As a trial lawyer, you should be well-versed in great literary works.  (Confession time: I didn’t actually read A Tale of Two Cities in 8th grade — I read the Illustrated Classics version.  It’s actually a captivating story in comic book form!)  Your familiarity with classic literature will provide you with an endless array of stories and analogies.  For example, you could illustrate the effect of circumstantial evidence by telling the story about how Robinson Crusoe fainted after discovering the footprint in the sand, because he knew he wasn’t alone on the island.  You might compare the plaintiff to Captain Ahab (Moby Dick), equivalate the defendant’s comments to “the black spot” (Treasure Island), or even describe the situation as a “Catch-22.”

7. Mythology. Did the Sword of Damacles dangle above the witness’s head during cross-examination?  Did your examination of their star witness open a Pandora’s Box?  Are you asking the jurors to untie a Gordian knot with their verdict?  Is your opponent asking your client to perform a Herculean task?  Don’t assume that your jurors know their mythology.  Instead, tell them a short, punchy version of the myth, and then show how it applies to your case.

8. Idiomatic expressions. Is it time for the defendant to “face the music?”  Was the company “flying by the seat of its pants?”  Is your opponent trying to “sweep something under the rug?”  Idiomatic phrases are an excellent tool for illustrating your point.  Here are two lists of English idioms to search:

http://www.learn-english-today.com/Proverbs/proverbs_A-K.html
(Alphabetic listing of idiomatic phrases)

http://www.learn-english-today.com/idioms/idioms_proverbs.html
(Idiomatic phrases listed by theme)

Before using the phrase, make sure that your jurors understand what you’re talking about.  For example, don’t just say it was a “red herring” argument, tell them the story behind the phrase, describing how convicts used red herrings to divert bloodhounds from their scent.

9. Movies. Is the informant selling out his friends to appease the government and protect his own interests like Lando Calrissian did in The Empire Strikes Back? Has your client been reliving every day since the crash like it’s Groundhog Day? Did the defendant force your client to make a Sophie’s Choice? Even terrible movies can serve as inspiration.  If you describe how the defendant’s actions ruined the company the same way Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin killed the Batman franchise, jurors will immediately understand what you’re talking about.

Do you have other recommendations? I’m sure I missed dozens of other worthwhile closing argument sources.  Tell me (and more than 10,000 other trial lawyers) where you find your closing argument ideas by posting a quick comment below!

Let us know what you think

3 Comments

  • Cynthia Henley

    November 20, 2009

    I like to find quotes in Bartlett’s Quotations. Easy to search & actually enjoyable to read (& mark ones that you find may be applicable in cases.)

  • Cliff

    July 11, 2011

    I have a book of famous quotations by famous people. I also have a book of Yogi Nerra quotes. Both can be iused to help a jury focus on your main argument. For example, Yogi’s famous “when you come to a fork in the road, take it,” can be used as a fun way to explain to a jury that both sides will seem to tell the same story, to a point. At that point they will have to choose the right story and the wrong one.

  • Vince

    October 7, 2011

    The word is “equate”. “Equivalate” is not a word. It is the sword of “Damocles”. One “cuts through the Gordian knot”. The meaning of the expression is lost if one tries to “untie” it.

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