You Never Forget Your First Oral Argument…

GUEST BLOG Stephanie Baldwin, 1L at the University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law


Image from the ABA for Law Students

First, we had research projects, then memos, and finally we’ve reached the oral argument stage of our law school careers. For most, this is a stressful time, especially for those who do not like to speak in front of others. Even if you have a lot of public speaking experience, it is not uncommon to be nervous, but our professor has reassured us that the nerves can actually be helpful. Here are some tips I’ve learned as I prepare for my first graded oral argument.

Handle the Nerves

A 2L told me if I wasn’t nervous before my oral argument “I wasn’t doing it right.” It was also reassuring to have our professor share that even experienced attorneys, with decades of experience, still get nervous before an oral argument. The “good part” of nerves is that they keep us on our toes. The “bad part” is, if not managed, they may impact our performance. Great…

The best advice I can give is to find a coping mechanism for your nerves. Some people like to visualize their performance, and others wear a favorite clothing item or hold something in their hand. For me, it’s applying pressure to my pinky finger. I know it sounds weird, but I acted as a kid, and this was a trick an experienced actor showed me. It’s easy to conceal, and I can’t even explain why it works, but it does. It is a small thing that helps me overcome my nerves and helps me focus.

The point is, you just need to discover what works for you. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it helps you to stay focused and calm. The ABA also has a great article for students here about managing your nerves.

Make A List of Questions

Make a list of questions you might be asked during your oral argument. You may have done this in class, but if you haven’t, I found it REALLY helpful! To make your own list, think of 3 questions you want to be asked, 3 questions you assume you will be asked, and 3 questions you hope you don’t get asked. You can then use these question to practice your oral argument and shore up any weaknesses you might have.

Find the Organization Method that Works for You.

There are a lot of different methods to use during your oral argument to help you stay organized, and they usually involve some type of folder system. Some recommend multiple folders, others a single folder system. In my class, we watched this video from UMKC about how to use a single folder with notecards. I liked this method, and it is what I will be using.

Practice! Present Your Argument To Someone

As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. You can present to yourself by recording your argument and reviewing it. I also recommend practicing in front of other people. Consider working with someone familiar with all of the facts. Since they know the material, they might not pull punches and ask tough questions. The other option you have is to work with your opponent. Some people might think this is crazy and unrealistic, and it might be off limits at your schools. At mine, it is encouraged, as it will challenge the way we look at our arguments and allow us to improve our memos before we submit them.

Best of luck with your oral arguments! Let me know how they went over @The1LLife on Twitter and Instagram.