Student Post: May it Please the Court

by Andrew ’16

In law school, one of the rites of passage during your first year is oral arguments. I discovered this when I started researching schools, and it has stressed me out since. I never considered myself a performer, but I have had the opportunity speak publicly through research presentations to small crowds. As a result, I do not have an issue being “on stage,” though it was never something I particularly enjoyed. I am not sure what made me so tense exactly, but some of the pressure likely came from my only exposure to oral arguments before law school.

Before I was old enough to begin thinking about careers or lifelong aspirations, I was familiar with basic legal concepts. Most of the familiarity came from my grandparents, who religiously watched law based dramas. Therefore, after years of Law and Order, Perry Mason, and Matlock, I had an idea of what the legal realm entailed, albeit Hollywood’s legal realm. One thing that stuck out in my mind about the attorneys on television was their ability to stand in front of the court and deliver eloquent speeches, emoting all over the place. I was impressed with their ability to persuade and, usually, win. Of course, now I know they were acting. However, images like that do not disappear that easily.

Since starting law school, the Hollywood lawyer and their skill with oral arguments haunted me. I wondered how I would be able to keep my composure in front of a group, or how I would attend to all my arguments while fielding questions from the judge. I just knew I would never be as eloquent as Perry Mason or Jack McCoy. Luckily, as often occurs when comparing Hollywood images of law and actual law, reality is much different from television.

My oral argument experience was not me stumbling over my own thoughts or stuttering through a response to a question. Instead, it was an exercise of how to get a persuasive point across to a third party while remaining true to the law. There was no reason to stress about it. As I watched my classmates go through the same process, I realized that we all argued well.  We were not fumbling because we have been learning how to express legal arguments in an effective way for the better part of a year. We were not one day randomly standing up in front of a judge. Instead, we had been preparing for this, in some ways, for months. What I had built up as the thing that I dreaded most about law school suddenly became my favorite thing so far.

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