Friday, April 10, 2009

Tips on the Oral Argument

Last night I was looking for some new cases to read up on, but instead I discovered a part of the Illinois Courts website that I didn’t notice before... the Oral Argument Audio Video Section. It’s interesting because you can definitely learn what to do and what not to do when presenting an oral argument. Personally, I welcome all sorts of public speaking opportunities (it’s partly why I chose to pursue this profession) I think its fun; and can undoubtedly create an opportunity to deliver a message in a way that was not there before.

So here are my educational tips to approaching the Oral Argument: and videos included!

1. Be prepared!
The best thing you can do for yourself in an oral argument is to be prepared! If you know your argument, the cases which support it, and the order in which you will present your argument you have nothing to worry about!

Practical ways you can accomplish this:

Get organized! Figure out what you need and simply take what is necessary to the podium. I suggest your brief, a manila folder which neatly contains your presentation, Post-it-Notes, and a trusty pen (Post-it-Notes and Pens are not really necessary at the time of your presentation; rather they are useful to take notes as your opponent is speaking). ----Click for image----

Print your argument in short hand format (an outline), this will help you stay on track with your argument and in case you are forced to step out of your argument order you can quickly step right back in.
---Click for image---

List your cases, so if you need to cite them to the court it’s right in front of you. And if you need to refresh you memory on a case it’s also right in front of you! ---Click for image---

Lastly rehearse your argument front of a mirror if you have to! The key is to just do it! You want to work the kinks out so you won’t work them out in front of the judges.

2. Look good feel good!
Make sure you dress professionally (see image at the top). Looking professional sets the tone not only for yourself but for those who are going to be listening to you. Avoid “flashy colors” (i.e. hot pink, lime green), unnecessary jewelry, and bothersome hairstyles. The last thing you want the court to be paying attention to is the choice of your attire, your blindingly reflective jewelry you refer to as “bling”, or the constant hand gestures moving your hair out of your face. Strike the balance between looking professional and feeling comfortable. Oh and if you have to ask, “Is this appropriate?” It’s probably not!

3. Respect
Respect the court and its procedure! Simply knowing these few points will increase your credibility and respect in the eyes of the courts and your peers.
Don’t approach the bench until asked to.
Begin with “May it please the court, my name is (your name here) and I represent the (party name and role in lawsuit).
Request time for rebuttal; NEVER assume your going to get time! (As a matter of fact in most courts if you don’t request it...YOU WAIVE IT!)
Briefly and concisely, introduce with out looking at your notes the following: (Yes that means memorize these!)
The issue and your clients stand (Make this great! You command the attention at this point.)
The reasons in which you will discuss why your client should prevail (Make eye contact)
The most relevant facts (Be brief because the court usually wants to skip passed these)
Now take a breath and begin your points in detail (You can look at your notes now, but don’t stare at them!)
When speaking, avoid unnecessary hand gestures, try keeping in front of you on the podium.
Lastly if a judge speaks you zip it! No matter what you are saying! (Its that respect thing again)

In an effort to show you what to do and what not to do I have written some points and illustrated them with video links from our very own Illinois courts Website. Unfortunately the videos are more than half an hour each so I only refer to the good and not so good that occurs in the first two minutes of each oral argument.

Video 1: Weather-Tite v. University of St. Francis
The good:
She waited until she was requested to approach the bench.
She dressed professionally
She was organized and had only what she needed at the podium
She began with the “may it please the court”
She had some good eye contact
She stops speaking when the judges begin speaking

The not so good:
She forgot to mention who she was?!
She began to get flustered, it would have been better if she memorized her introduction
She had to mover her hair behind her ear. (Not a huge deal...but try to prevent having to do that)
She was nervous...and it showed.

Video 2: Stern v. Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School District 200
The good:
He had a good introduction overall!
He dressed professionally

The not so good:
Really did you need all those papers?

Video 3: Turner v. Memorial Medical Center
The good:
He approached the podium when asked
Good classic opening sentence

The not so good:
Lack of eye contact
Unnecessary hand gestures
Really do you need all those papers and pens?

Video 4: Halpin v. Schultz
The good:
He approached when asked
He gave a good history of the case
He had his documents neatly organized and limited

The not so good:
There was no classic introductory sentence
You really don’t have to tell us who present in the court
Skip the lost us for a minute
There were unnecessary hand gestures
He did not have the codes handy: (see 2min 5 seconds)

Video 5: Beelman Trucking v. Workers' Compensation Commission
The good:
He dressed professionally
He spoke in a respective tone

The not so good:
He approached the podium before asked to
Really did you need all those papers and folders up there? (unorganized)
He did not begin with the classic sentence
There were unnecessary hand motions!
There was a lack of eye contact

Video 6: In re: Cutright
The good:
He dressed professionally.
He brought minimal papers to the podium.
He approached the podium when asked.
He used the classic introductory sentence.
He clearly stated his clients stand and the issues in a clearly spoken and concise manner.

The not so good:
He could have made better eye contact.
He nervously scratched his cheek...repeatedly.
He nervously played with his ring.

Lastly here is a young law student, Victoria Corder, who in my opinion does a pretty darn good job!--->Video

As always opinions & comments are welcome!


Michael W. Huseman said...

Great post.

I am going to watch some of those videos this weekend.

On a side note, I argued in front of the Illinois Supreme Court in the fall of 2007. They started posting the recordings of arguments to their website in January 2008.

I knew it was being recorded at the time, so I have since called down there to get a copy of the recording, or even a written transcript, but I was told transcripts are not availabe prior to January 2008.

Waseem A. Mateen said...

Gracias amigo!

...As per your 2007 Supreme Court Case, I tried finding it actually. Unbeknown to me at the time, the videos only date back to the January 2008.

I'm sure it's available somewhere! It would be great if we could find it and post it!