Oral Arguments

December 19, 2008

C.S., 1L

As the end of my first term at YLS nears, an increasing number of my 1L colleagues can be seen roaming the halls dressed up in full business attire. Since YLS is a pretty casual place, this sight is quite unusual – I’m used to walking the halls seeing people in blue jeans, t-shirts, and the occasional polo or dress shirt. However, the final weeks of the term represent a special time for us 1Ls. After writing full legal briefs defending our positions in particular cases assigned by our small group professors, we were now to give oral arguments in front of our professor and TA “judges.” Playing the part of lawyers defending our own real cases, it was our turn to play dress-up.

Oral arguments are unique to the fall 1L experience at Yale. Besides the oral argument and brief, we also write a legal memo in our first term. Balancing all of the writing and argument prep with all the reading from our four other classes is certainly a challenge, but the oral arguments represent an exciting culmination to the end of our first term. And YLS’s unique credit or no credit grading system helps as well!

Fortunately, the time of our oral arguments fit in perfectly with our curriculum. Students here at Yale just had the privilege of watching the Second Circuit Court of Appeals hear oral arguments at the law school, and we now had the opportunity to put the skills we observed into practice firsthand. While the arguments were presented, I watched in awe as Judge Calabresi – the renowned law professor and former dean of YLS (who still teaches 1Ls torts) – posed probing hypothetical situations and questions to attorneys arguing various cases.

You see, oral arguments are quite different from what many of us are used to at this stage in our law school career. Although many YLS 1Ls have experience in various forms of debate, few of us have had to make arguments at the interruptible mercy of judges. Thus, it was a bit nerve-racking for many of us as we faced the prospect of a grilling on the facts by our small group professor and TAs. Nevertheless, such tension and anxiety is admittedly not a large part of the Yale 1L experience. Sure, many of us were nervous, and I no doubt was, as I made my first steps up to the podium, but my classmates and professors were incredibly supportive throughout the whole process. By the time my actual argument happened, I had been able to bounce ideas and questions – we call this “mooting” – off of many of my YLS colleagues. This definitely eased the tension and made the experience that much more enjoyable. My arguments certainly weren’t perfect, but it was a memorable experience that taught me about the fine balance between respecting judges’ questions and forwarding your own arguments in a limited amount of time.

Now that I’m finished, I just need to conjure up the confidence to watch and critique the video of my performance. That, admittedly, may not be so easy¬!