Wednesday, November 17, 2021
My appellate advocacy students have been doing their oral arguments in class. Many of them have not done moot court, so this is their first experience standing at the lectern. Almost all of them start out with some nerves and then settle down after getting a few questions. When it's over, they ask how to not be so nervous. I think that this is a common enough question from students and young lawyers to merit a post, and I welcome other ideas from practitioners out there.
- Practice, practice, practice. Mooting a case before the real argument is the best way to prepare. Grab a couple of experienced attorneys in your office (and one outside your office if you can), have them read the briefs, and then get their thoughts. For young attorneys, I think it helps to do it both informally (sitting around a table and discussing what the court's concerns are likely to be, what your theme should be, etc.) and formally (having the attorneys role play as judges and actually ask the questions). If you do this a few times, you're not likely to get a question that hasn't come up before, meaning you will have a ready answer for each one. This breeds confidence and naturally drives down the nerves.
- Observation. One of my colleagues started out doing appeals in the Illinois Attorney General's Office, and he said that his boss there would not let anyone argue in the Illinois Supreme Court without having done the 3 1/2 hour drive from Chicago to Springfield to watch arguments in-person. I think this was a sound practice. Before you argue, go to the court and watch someone else do it. Many courts are still doing remote arguments and posting them online, so it's pretty easy these days to look up the recordings and observe. If your court is in person, then go there and sit in the gallery. When I did this as a law student, I learned both from watching great advocates and not-so-great ones. The great ones helped me shape my style for the better; the not-so-great ones showed me that while I might not be perfect, I could at least do as well or better than they did. An odd sort of confidence, but it does help combat nervousness.
- Visualization. Picture yourself in the court, giving the argument as you practice. The more you can picture the place where you'll be and the faces of those you'll be talking with, the less of a shock it will be when you are actually standing there.
- Medical help. In extreme cases, I've seen attorneys--after consulting with their doctors--take beta-blockers to combat the adrenaline a bit.
Any other suggestions out there?