Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Spring is here, which means budding trees and oral arguments for 1Ls. At Commonwealth Law School, first-year students write appellate briefs addressing two issues. During oral arguments, teams of two argue against each other. Each student argues one of the major issues.
When I ask students their concerns regarding oral argument, most are worried about answering the judges' questions. I use speed questioning to help students overcome their question anxiety. Speed questioning is modeled after speed dating. Students answer questions posed by the "judges" sitting before them. When the buzzer rings, students rotate for another round of questioning in front of new "judges."
I run speed questioning during class; however, I never conduct it in the lecture room. Speed questioning requires a room with large, open space. I have used moot courtrooms, an art gallery, and classrooms with movable desks, which I pushed off to the sides. Before class, I set up two questioning circles, one for each of the major issues to be addressed during oral argument. I arrange chairs facing outward in two separate circles.
To begin, students representing the appellee act as judges. Students responsible for issue 1 sit in one circle. Those responsible for issue 2 sit in the second circle. I give each sitting "judge" a list of questions that the students compiled as part of their homework for this class. Some students refer to the list during the speed-questioning rounds. Other students make up questions during the exercise.
Students representing the appellant answer questions first. Each student stands in front of one of the sitting "judges." Students responsible for issue 1 rotate around the issue 1 circle while being questioned by students that will argue issue 1 for the opponent. Similarly, students responsible for issue 2 rotate around the issue 2 circle. The standing students answer questions for three minutes. At the expiration of time, I ring a buzzer. The students stop. The standing students rotate to the next sitting "judge" and another round of questioning begins. Questioning continues for seven or eight rounds until each student works his or her way around the circle.
Once appellants have worked their way around the circle, it is time for the parties to switch places. The students who had been sitting now stand to answer questions. The students who had been answering questions sit. Questioning by the sitting "judges" resumes. Students again answer questions for three-minute periods, rotating around the circle for seven or eight rounds.
In the first several rounds, the students are apprehensive. Many shift their weight from foot-to-foot. Some stand with their hands in their pockets or slouch. After about three rounds of questioning, students' demeanors change. They stand tall and still. They gesture naturally with their hands. Some students even smile. Speed questioning challenges students with the portion of oral argument they fear most-- answering judges' questions. Students gain confidence, which they carry with them to the podium for their first oral arguments.