September 10, 2013
At the beginning of the argument, introduce:
- Who you are representing
- In what capacity
For example: “May it please the Court, counsel, my name is _________, and I represent the appellant ______.”
State the Issue
After your introduction, briefly describe the case. How would you explain this case to a friend over a beer? This part of the argument sets the tone and establishes your theme. Forget about using legalese, play to the judges’ sense of fair play and logic. Clearly and concisely explain the issues and state the reasons why you should win. Also be sure to include what, specifically, you are asking the court to do (overturn, affirm, reverse and remand, etc.).
This part should be less than a minute. It needs to immediately grab the judges’ attention.
For example, “This cases raises the issue of whether (frame the issue). Because the appellant in this case (describe relevant/significant facts needed to set up the issue and why you should win), the decision of the district court should be reversed.”
Provide a Roadmap
You want to let the court know where you are going with your argument. This is particularly important to try to keep yourself on track, and if the judges do derail your argument with questions, the roadmap at least lets them know what you intended on covering.
To do this, create an overview that will lay the foundation of your case. Use ordinals as verbal signals and mention each point that you plan on covering, but don’t go into too much depth.
For example, “Today I would like to cover three main points. First, ______. Second, _______. And third, ________.”
To include the facts or not to include them, that is the question. In practice, some courts’ rules explicitly state that attorneys should assume the court is familiar with the facts. For moot court competitions, this may or may not be noted in the rules, so there are a few ways you can approach this:
- Ask if the judges if they’d like a brief recitation. (If you offer this, you’d better be prepared for it!)
- Be quick with relevant and crucial facts – only enough information so that judges completely unfamiliar with the case can understand the issues.
- If applicable, simply weave facts into the reasons you should win.
- Some judges may simply ask for a fuller decision of the facts, so be prepared with the most relevant story for your side.
In my next post I will examine the final five elements of successful oral arguments.