My Shingle

The Rituals of Oral Argument – Please Share Yours!

by Carolyn Elefant on October 26, 2008 · 6 comments

in Litigation & Courts: Policy and Practice, Questions & Advice

Print Friendly

Ever since I advanced, rather surprisingly, through the rounds of my first year Moot Court competition, I’ve adhered rigorously to certain rituals of oral argument.  Back then, my rituals involved meditating in front of a candle and listening to this James Taylor album over and over again.  These days, I memorize case citations and JA pages, recite my arguments from beginning to end while walking the dog or taking a shower, and re-read what I consider the best ten pages of advice on preparing for an oral argument that I’ve ever seen by this blogger.

On Thursday, I argue for the first time before the Fourth Circuit (I’ve appeared before other federal circuit courts at least 2 dozen times, but this is my first time in the Fourth) and so I’m now revisiting these familiar rituals.  But in doing so, I wondered – what are your quirky little pre-argument or pre-trial rituals?  Do you have a particular tie or pair of shoes that you favor?  A special breakfast food?  Do you approach the podium with pages or notes, or naked, with nary a sheet of paper (I rarely look at my notes during argument, but still can’t bring myself to dispense with my paper security blanket).  Does your heart pound rapidly as you approach the podium, as mine does, or do you fall into a zenlike calm?

Please send me your comments and maybe I can add some new routines.

  • http://www.alabamaproductinjurylawyer.com Craig Niedenthal

    Carolyn: Being a trial lawyer for over 25 years, i still get butterflies even going in to court for a fairly basic hearing. I tend to make an outline of my argument, make sure I understand the main cases at issue and then trust I know it well enough to just go with it. Usually bring up with me some short notes from my outline, but tend to just talk.
    Can say, the first day of trial, I never eat…too damn nervous. But after the butterflies have passed usually after first day, i try to keep nourished throughout the day, otherwise i putter out. Bottom line, look over your notes and outlines several times so that when you are up there and ready to go, you can talk about the issues as the legal scholar you are suppose to be.

  • http://www.alabamaproductinjurylawyer.com Craig Niedenthal

    Carolyn: Being a trial lawyer for over 25 years, i still get butterflies even going in to court for a fairly basic hearing. I tend to make an outline of my argument, make sure I understand the main cases at issue and then trust I know it well enough to just go with it. Usually bring up with me some short notes from my outline, but tend to just talk.
    Can say, the first day of trial, I never eat…too damn nervous. But after the butterflies have passed usually after first day, i try to keep nourished throughout the day, otherwise i putter out. Bottom line, look over your notes and outlines several times so that when you are up there and ready to go, you can talk about the issues as the legal scholar you are suppose to be.

  • http://texasappellatelawblog.com D. Todd Smith

    I don’t have what I would consider to be rituals or superstitions. It’s more of a process.
    I generally go back and read all the briefs and important cases, then check to see if any new on-point decisions have come out since the briefs were filed. I’ll then outline my argument, paying particular attention to the weak points in my case and questions I think I’m likely to get from the bench. Finally, I boil my outline down to a one-page flowchart listing the most important or hard-to-remember points and case names.
    I put whatever I think is important in a 1″ black binder that I take to the podium with me, but I don’t usually look at it much. I try to be as conversational as I can.

  • http://texasappellatelawblog.com D. Todd Smith

    I don’t have what I would consider to be rituals or superstitions. It’s more of a process.
    I generally go back and read all the briefs and important cases, then check to see if any new on-point decisions have come out since the briefs were filed. I’ll then outline my argument, paying particular attention to the weak points in my case and questions I think I’m likely to get from the bench. Finally, I boil my outline down to a one-page flowchart listing the most important or hard-to-remember points and case names.
    I put whatever I think is important in a 1″ black binder that I take to the podium with me, but I don’t usually look at it much. I try to be as conversational as I can.

  • http://www.TrialTechView.com Blake Boyd

    I’m not an attorney. But I see enough going into Oral Arguments to say… A lot make a trip to the restroom to wash their hands, clean up and get away from everyone else (ok, and some get a little sick).
    To be honest, even little ol’ me being the trial technologist get butterflies walking into the courtroom. I’m currently in a trial that is starting its second week, and I still get nervous driving to the courthouse.
    Unless you’ve been in the heat of the battle (or argument) with the added stresses that a courtroom brings, you’ll never understand what stress is!

  • http://www.TrialTechView.com Blake Boyd

    I’m not an attorney. But I see enough going into Oral Arguments to say… A lot make a trip to the restroom to wash their hands, clean up and get away from everyone else (ok, and some get a little sick).
    To be honest, even little ol’ me being the trial technologist get butterflies walking into the courtroom. I’m currently in a trial that is starting its second week, and I still get nervous driving to the courthouse.
    Unless you’ve been in the heat of the battle (or argument) with the added stresses that a courtroom brings, you’ll never understand what stress is!

Previous post:

Next post: