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Is addressing opposing council, the members of the jury, and the court prior to statements necessary?

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  • Is addressing opposing council, the members of the jury, and the court prior to statements necessary?

    Since everyone is waiting with baited breath to find out how this ORC turns out, I figured this was a good time to drum up a discussion I've always wondered about.

    We've all heard this sentence in front of almost every opening and closing statement in mock trial:

    "Opposing council, members of the jury, may it please the court."

    But why are we saying it and should we keep saying it? Let's all make Perjuries posts to find out.

    1.) Why do people do this?

    At face value, the first two parts of this phrase seem to be the attorney acknowledging or saying hello to their opponents and the jury. The second is asking the judge if they can proceed.

    Ostensibly, an attorney at trial will already have met their opponents ahead of time during discovery, pretrial hearings, etc (barring some re-benching). In fact, they already will have addressed the court alongside opposing council during appearances. So if we are to believe that this is just the statement attorney saying hello, why are they doing it now, of all times? The only thing I could think of is that an attorney would be doing this to appear more friendly and likable to the jury (saying hi to the people they're up against). But, while people do tend to underestimate the mental capacity of ta jury, I personally think they're shrewd enough to see through the fake pleasantries, and in fact might disapprove of them.

    Furthermore, there's some sort of verbal/linguistic/titular problem with this. You're calling them "opposing council." If your intention is to appear more friendly you wouldn't refer to them as that. You would call them "Mx. So and so," or "council for the defense/plaintiff/party." In fact, from what I understand, calling them "opposing council" in front of the court or the jury is generally frowned upon in real practice.

    Now, let's move on to "may it please the court." At face value, the implied full phrase here is "would it be okay if I start now, your honor." Now this is completely fine, if not for the actual context of this in mock trial. Because, without fail, the advocate will say that AFTER they already asked the judge if they may proceed and/or after the judge invited them to give an opening statement. Further more, if this were the actual intention, the council would pause and wait for the judge to give them verbal permission (or even a head nod), which never happens either.

    My opinion is that mock trial people just say this for the soundbite, or because they heard someone else do it, or because its a bad habit that stuck with them. If you have another perspective on this, please elaborate below.

    2.) What effect does it have?

    Everyone has heard of the concept of "primacy and recency." The first thing that the jury hears is ideally your theme or something else to catch their attention and linger with them. As such, it seems like it would be more effective to discontinue saying this phrase. On the other hand, as touched on in question 1, if the intent of this phrase is simply to appear more likable, is that effect so important as to decide not to hook the audience in immediately?

    3.) Should advocates continue to do this?

    4.) Which teams typically forgo this intro and how does it affect their efficacy and demeanor?

    5.) For those with lots of trial experience, does anyone actually say this before statements in real life (at non-appellate, jury trials)?

  • #2
    Some points about the use of this phrasing. Again, it's more of a mock trial thing than anything else, so while it's unfortunate that differences exist between the activity and real court, I feel the reasons are justified. Firstly, it has to do with an issue of timing. The reason most people use the phrase "may it please the court" is because it gives the time keeper something to look out for in order to start the stopwatch. The last thing you want are disputes between time keepers about what time councilor started, and this essentially gives them a "ready, set, go" to start timing. Secondly, it's a good way to signify to judges that you are about to start and is surprisingly effective at grabbing attention. If there is one thing that gets harder and harder to do as time goes on, it's keeping the attention of judges, especially when they've heard the same fact pattern multiple times by this point. Looking the judges in the face and saying "your honor: or "members of the jury, " especially if you take a deep pause after "may it please the court," you'd be surprised how often even inattentive judges look up. Finally, and I don't mean for this to come across as rude because questioning why you do things is an important skill, but what you say before statements isn't really a big deal. No judge is going to mark you down for foregoing "opposing counsel" or "your honor." I've heard people start from members of the jury and I don't feel it impacted them all that much. I would recommend keeping may it please the court for the reasons I cited, because standing up and jumping right in makes everyone else's lives harder. But you don't have to say all that fluff beforehand if you don't want to, no one will force you too.

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    • #3
      Totally superfluous and robotic. No downside to getting rid of it.

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      • #4
        Originally posted by ThugLyf View Post
        3.) Should advocates continue to do this?

        Furthermore, there's some sort of verbal/linguistic/titular problem with this. You're calling them "opposing council." If your intention is to appear more friendly you wouldn't refer to them as that. You would call them "Mx. So and so," or "council for the defense/plaintiff/party." In fact, from what I understand, calling them "opposing council" in front of the court or the jury is generally frowned upon in real practice.[/B]
        In my four years of mock, I've experienced attorneys getting marked down for NOT saying it before they start their speech, but I've never experienced someone getting marked down for saying it before their speech, so I always do it. Of course it's strange to refer to someone as "opposing council"; it's just a filler for when you don't know someone's name. Before trial you should always ask for your opposing team's names and address each one of them by name in your speech (e.g. "Your Honor, opposing councils, Mr. X, Ms. Y, Ms. Z, members of the jury, and may it please the court"). It's both a power move and pretty formal.

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