Law School Academic Support Blog

Editor: Amy Jarmon
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Good Litigating is Good Teaching: Closing Arguments

This is the fifth and final post in the "Good Litigating is Good Teaching" series.

Part One: Introduction

Part Two: Getting a Good Start

Part Three: Mastering Your Case-in-Chief

Part Four: Experts & Exhibits

Part Five: Closing Arguments

Provide Guidance in the Closing Argument

Few Americans have ever participated in the deliberations process. Thus it is wise to offer the jurors a proposed course of action. For example, the criminal defense attorney may encourage the jury to start their discussion with element X. The attorney might further explain that if the jury concludes that the prosecution failed to prove element X, then the jury need not deliberate any further; rather the jury would be required to find the defendant not guilty. Or perhaps the attorney recognizes that one plaintiff or defendant is exceedingly easier (or more difficult) to resolve than the others. Pointing this out to the jury may serve to expedite the deliberations process.

Similarly, a professor ought to provide some insight into which study-approaches and resources are best, and which ones should be ignored. Such advice will not only assist the student in being better prepared for the exam, but also lessen the stress associated with having to wade through dozens of different study methods and resources.

Conduct Post-Trial Analysis

After the jury renders its verdict, counsel will usually ask the jury for some feedback about what went well, who the jurors found credible, if the jurors understood the theory of the case, and so on. The trial attorney will also ask other attorneys, who may have been in the room for a portion of the trial, for their impressions about her effectiveness in the courtroom. Trial counsel will then adjusts her strategy in future cases based on what proved successful.

A professor, likewise, has the opportunity to assess his performance through end-of-the-semester student evaluations. Here, students evaluate whether the instructor was prepared, organized, and presented information in a helpful and logical manner.  Scholars have long debated the efficacy of teaching evaluations. Regardless of the weight placed upon them, student evaluations remain a good mirror on the wall.  [1] A professor may invite another colleague to evaluate his teaching effectiveness, or perhaps the professor may opt to self-assess using a video recording system.


And, In Conclusion 

Many researchers have opined that in order for jurors to feel satisfied and successful, jurors want to be told what to expect before the trial begins, then guided through the presentation of evidence in a timely and logical fashion, before finally being offered some assistance with how best to conduct the deliberations process.  Students, arguably, require similar assistance in the classroom setting as they navigate a 3-year long odyssey.  In short, it is the professor’s responsibility in the classroom and the attorney’s responsibility in the courtroom to educate their audience, while providing reassurances and guidance throughout the process. 


[1] For two critiques, see Dennis R. Honabach, Responding to “Educating Lawyers”: An Heretical Essay in Support of Abolishing Teaching Evaluations, 39 U. Tol. L. Rev. 311 (Winter 2008); Deborah J. Merritt, Bias, the Brain, and Student Evaluations of Teaching, 82 St. John’s L. Rev. 235 (Winter 2008).

(Kirsha Tryhcta)

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