Less than one month after getting licensed to practice, I found myself on my way to my first motions argument. I had been to court many times before with a senior attorney, but no matter how many times, it never seems to prepare you for your first time on your own. Here is how I survived my first argument.
- Don’t know which court room you are supposed to be in? Ask. In most courthouses there is an information desk where you can ask what courtroom your matter is in. If there is no desk, ask the security officer at the door. Most of the officers have worked there for a while and are more than happy to point you in the right direction.
- If you don’t know where to sit, just follow the people in suits with briefcases. This might not seem important, but when you don’t want to stick out even more as the new kid on the block, I found the best thing to do was to just do what the other attorneys are doing.
- Don’t know what to say during calendar call? Pray your client is not first on the list, and listen to what the other attorneys say. Also, if you have a question, don’t feel bad turning to the attorney sitting next to you to ask. I know you don’t want to seem like you don’t know what is going on, but sometimes it is just better to ask.
- Prepare, prepare, prepare: When it is your first argument, you can never over-prepare.
• Have multiple copies of the cases you have cited to in your motion—one for the court, one for opposing counsel, and one for yourself with highlights and notes.
• Reread all the cases in the other side’s motion and take notes on them.
• Make yourself a mini-script outlining all your points and cites from the cases.
• Be prepared to not get through your entire argument. You may be interrupted by the judge one sentence into your argument and this is not necessarily a bad thing.
- Breathe. You are going to be nervous, but just take a few deep breaths and keep anything you can nervously fiddle with away from counsel’s table, including pens that click. The last thing you want is for the judge to just pay attention to you nervously playing with your pen and not listening to what you are actually saying.
- If you don’t know, just ask for time to brief the issue. You are bound in your career to get a question from a judge about something you just don’t know anything about. Your mind starts to immediately panic, but if you keep these simple words in mind you will never fail: “Your honor, I am unsure about that and would appreciate the opportunity to research and brief that issue for you.”
Always remember this: All attorneys survived their first time in court before they could get to where they are today, and you will survive, too.
Jessica Pieri is legal counsel and a research analyst at the House Republican Office of the Connecticut General Assembly.