November 07, 2014 Practice Points

How to Prepare for Oral Argument

By Emily J. Kirk

One of our committee's more popular social media posts related to the article "How to Prepare for Oral Argument" which was originally published in the Lawyerist on March 5, 2012, and republished on March 2, 2014. Because so many people enjoyed the post and its tips, I felt it would be beneficial to summarize the article and share those tips here.
In the article, author Sam Glover encourages litigators to use "modular" approach when preparing for oral argument. He argues that oral arguments are dynamic and preparation should mirror that.

Glover suggests the following approach:

    1. Ditch the outline. Outlines encourage rigid thinking. If you rely on an outline too much, you will be thrown off by questions and may repeat information or skip issues altogether.

    2. Practice intense preparation. The single most-important component of a great oral argument, according to Glover, is preparation. It is imperative that you find the time. For every oral argument you must know four things: the facts, the law, your argument, and what you want.

    3. Organize and practice your argument. Glover says he writes each issue he wants to discuss or each point he wants to make on a separate index card. Then he takes a card and practices his argument around that topic or idea. Usually, he says, the oral argument organizes itself as he does this because he refers to the other cards as he goes. As the argument takes shape, he then lays the cards on the floor to sort them and put them in the order that makes the most sense, trying to group them by only a few main topics. Those main topics then become a concise roadmap for the court. Glover suggests practicing and then taking breaks. He also suggests practicing your argument with non-lawyers. If they look bored, you aren't doing a very good job.

    4. Commit your argument to memory. Outlines, binders, and indexes are all distractions. The best way to argue is from memory. As you memorize, Glover says to practice the argument out of order so you understand the issues. The goal is not to remember the argument word-for-word, but to know and understand what you want to say about a topic whether or not you are interrupted.

    5. If you can, moot your argument. Although not every argument merits the time and expense of a moot session, if you can do it, you will elicit invaluable information and feedback. You may even learn what you will hear from the bench.

    6. Last-minute prep on the day of your argument. The goal is to quiet your nerves and give yourself one last refresher of the facts, law, and argument. Glover says what works for him is to get dressed and walk his dog. While he walks, he runs through his argument out loud two or three times. He then repeats the exercise in the car on his way to court. No notecards or outlines are used. When he gets to court, he sits down and jots his main "talking points" on a legal pad. When his case is called, that's all he takes to the podium.

Ultimately, Glover reminds his readers that preparation is key. If you have adequately prepared, you will be confident behind the podium and will rarely be surprised by what happens in the courtroom.

If you have your own tips for oral argument preparation, please share them with the committee through our LinkedIn page.

Keywords: litigation, solo, small firms, oral argument, tips

Emily J. Kirk is with Thompson Coburn LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.


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