So you’ve spent countless hours preparing and writing your legal arguments. You have eaten slept, and breathed your brief. Now, all that hard work comes to a head: oral arguments. At the end of their 1L year, law students have to face their fears and give an oral argument in front of a panel of “judges” (and for a grade!!) While this can be a frightening experience, it is also very rewarding. Fortunately, I survived my first oral argument and will help you be successful at yours as well!
You Will Be Nervous
This is (probably) the first time you have given a legal argument in front of others, let alone in front of actual attorneys and judges for a grade. It’s a little nerve-wracking. Thus, being nervous is all a part of the experience. Even well-seasoned attorneys get nervous during oral arguments! Not only is it difficult to remember your prepared material, but a question can completely throw off your entire argument. The best way to prepare is to realize that you’re going to be nervous. It doesn’t matter how much you practice or how much you know your arguments, you will get butterflies in your stomach. However, if you accept this, your nerves will deplete 30 seconds into your speech and you will be very successful going forward.
Know Your Brief
The key to success is to really know your brief. By this, I don’t mean know what you wrote or what your brief is about. Instead, you need to know your arguments inside and out. What are the strong parts of your arguments? Where are the holes? Which cases are crucial to your point? These are all important questions when preparing for your oral argument. This is also important because instead of just plainly stating the facts, you are advocating on behalf of your client. However, in order to be the most persuasive, you really need to understand where your arguments are going. If you get tripped up over a question that is crucial to your argument, it may be detrimental to your overall case.
Not only do you need to know your brief, you also need to be organized. Each person has their own organization scheme, but it is crucial to an effective oral argument. You need a plan of action. You should start with your strongest, most effective argument (especially because you want to make sure you clearly establish this!) Also, if some of your points need to be established by some other argument, you need to make sure you explain the argument first and then drive home the point. Thus, being organized is one of the keys to a successful oral argument. Personally, I had a binder with tabs dividing all of my preparation sheets, cases, and secondary sources. I also had two “outlines” for my argument: one long one with everything I wanted to say and a short, “get to the point” argument to ensure I touched on all the important arguments for my case.
Questions Are Your Friend
When I was preparing for my oral argument, I was most fearful of the questions I could get. However, during the argument, I felt the most comfortable when the judges were hammering me with questions. Why is this? Well, if you really know your brief and arguments, you can tell anyone anything about it. However, trying to remember your prepared speech is more difficult, especially since you are afraid you will mess it up and get nervous. Thus, anticipate what kinds of questions you might get and answer them while still being persuasive.
Be An Active Listener
I mean this in two ways. First, when your opponent is giving their argument, try to touch on arguments that they tried to hammer out and essentially respond to their position. This will be a win-win for you because the judges will be impressed that you are able to clearly establish an effective argument on the spot (especially if it is for the rebuttal), and you are strengthening your argument by weakening your opponent’s points. Second, listen to what kinds of questions the judges ask your opponent and you. This will help you ascertain what the judges are confused about and what points you really need to drive home to make your case.
Think of the entire oral argument as an interview. Would you wear jeans to an interview? Would you make faces at another candidate? Would be disrespectful to your interviewer? Your answer (and I’m sure it is) should be no. Oral argument is a time to show how professional you can be. So “suit up” and act like a lawyer until you leave the courtroom.
Look at that, not too bad! Ultimately, you just need to relax. If you practice and prepare your argument, you’ll be just fine! Oral arguments are actually fun when you are in the moment. Even if you don’t plan on being a litigator one day, it is exciting to do something that lawyers do every day. So don’t stress out, enjoy the moment (it’s a rite of passage for all law students!) Also, if you really enjoy your oral argument, consider joining Mock Trial or Moot Court in your 2L year!
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