It’s that time in the semester where law students are preparing for oral arguments in legal writing and appellate advocacy courses or moot court competitions. Students often tell me that they are terrified of oral arguments. Although oral arguments can be intimidating at first if you don’t have much experience–especially if you don’t enjoy public speaking–there are things that you can do to reduce the stress associated with oral arguments and maximize your academic success.
First–and I’m sure you’ve heard it from your professors already–the key is preparation and practice. There is no substitute for preparation, no magic pill that helps you to skip to the front of the line. You must be the “expert” on your oral argument viewpoint. After you have prepared, practice your oral argument until it feels natural. It can also help to practice with friends, asking each other hard questions to simulate the oral argument experience.
Second, imagine your worst case scenarios and develop an action plan for how you will address each challenge if it happens. For example, students often ask me, “What should I do if the judges ask me about a case I have never heard of or haven’t read?” To address this challenge, you might develop an answer like this: “Your Honor, I haven’t had the opportunity to consider X case in light of the issues presented here. I would be happy to submit a supplemental brief in response to this question if Your Honor desires it.” Anticipating possible challenges and determining in advance how you will respond in those situations can reduce stress, take away the fear, and help you respond appropriately if that situation does arise.
Finally, for students who feel intimidated by the judges, it can help to reframe how you think of oral arguments. Think of oral arguments as a type of conversation. Questions are an opportunity for you, not something scary. The person asking you the question is giving you guidance about what information he or she needs to make a decision. If you think about questions using this approach, they become less intimidating–instead, they will be a helpful tool for accomplishing your goals in your argument.