Introduction to Oral Argument

argument

We wanted to share with you some tips and advice from speakers at prior programs that we know you will find helpful! Check out this list of Oral Argument tips, created by Andrew Livingston, who has spoken at many of our Superior Court Boot Camps (and is speaking at our upcoming one this fall, 2018).

Let us know what you think!


Objectives

  • Learn how to prepare written materials for oral argument
  • Learn how to prepare for the spoken part of oral argument
  • Learn orienting devices to help your audience understand where you’re going.
    Learn how to deal with questions:

    • Cold benches, i.e., no questions
    • Hot benches, i.e., lots of questions
    • Answering questions
    • Moving on after a question
    • When to concede a point versus standing your ground
    • What to do when you don’t know the answer
  • Learn effective rebuttal

Preparing for the Argument

  • You should be developing your outline as you develop your knowledge of the facts and the law.
  • Your outline will probably start off very long; use the outlining process to refine your points over the course of multiple drafts.
  • Your goal should be to get your outline down to a single page, with single-sentence bullet points which you can reference during argument.
  • Consider coming to argument with a folder with:
    • your one-pager on one side; and
    • more detailed notes on the other side
  • Your folder is your security blanket; if you’re prepared, you might not need it at all.
  • The order of your argument can be just as important as the substance.
  • Think about placement, i.e., where within the argument you want to emphasize good facts and law, and where you want to [bury] bad facts and law.
  • Is there a bad fact or a bad case you want to get out in your opening so you can distinguish or neutralize?
  • Set aside dedicated time to practice your argument by yourself.
  • The goal is to get to the point where you won’t need to read from your outline.
  • Depending on time, resources, and the argument, you may wish to have a moot court session
  • If you do a moot argument, make sure the participants are:
    • familiar enough with the case to ask the right questions; and
    • can offer constructive feedback on your argument style
  • If this is your first argument—ever, or before this court—try to visit the court beforehand and watch another argument
  • Learn the layout, e.g., will you use a lectern or a table? Where is the countdown clock? Can you raise or lower the lectern? Where’s the water?
  • What are the judges’ names and where will they be seated?
  • How has the judge(s) ruled on this issue before?

The Argument

  • The first thing you need to know about speaking is that listening is at least as important.
  • The court will let you know what it’s interested in hearing, which often is not what you’re interested in saying.
  • If you’re prepared, you’ll be ready to listen to the court and adjust your argument accordingly.
  • Starting off with a concise, precise roadmap will help set up the audience’s expectations
  • Quickly state the relief and the reasons why the relief should be granted.
  • Use signposts in your argument to orient the audience
  • Let the court know when you’re moving to another point, and use that opportunity to once again map out your argument for the court.
  • Regarding plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief, the court should deny the motion because….
  • Make sure you understand questions asked, and clarify if necessary
  • TAKE YOUR TIME before
    • This is one of the hardest skills to learn in oral argument
    • Pause and think before answering
  • Resist the urge to fill the silence by saying the first (possibly incorrect) thing that pops into your head
Katie

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