On Friday, the Supreme Court of Virginia handed down 18 published opinions and two orders. As always, Steve Emmert has a witty write-up (along with a new photo on his web page–looking good, Steve). The VLW Blog also discusses some of the highlights. The bulk of January cases are either criminal appeals or habeas proceedings; I haven’t done the math myself, but Emmert breaks it down to 15 criminal appeals/habeas proceedings and 5 civil matters.
As you might have noticed, I wasn’t exactly on top of this breaking news–or much of anything else that happened over the past week, for that matter. Here’s my excuse:
From January 8-14, I attended the the National Trial Advocacy College at the University of Virginia. It’s off-topic, so I won’t bore you with the details, but it was probably the best educational experience of my life. The faculty was spectacular, the exercises were demanding, and the feedback was brutally honest. Further, I got to spend a week with dozens of talented and motivated lawyers working to get better at their job. That was fun. It was also a neat reminder of how lucky we are to do what we do.
But it gets better. I capped that off with an oral argument before the Supreme Court on Friday. For obvious reasons, I can’t discuss the case. But I really treasure the opportunities I get to argue before the Court. Oral argument is the reward for all of the hard work you put into briefing and preparing (although somehow, thinking of it that way doesn’t make me any less nervous). Different people go to law school for different reasons. If you ask me, the coolest thing you can do with a JD is to have a conversation with the Commonwealth’s highest court about what the law is (or should be), and help them get to a fair result that will justly govern future cases. It was a brilliant end to a perfect week.
I stuck around on Friday to hear the rest of the arguments. Here are some observations and practice pointers:
- Open clearly. I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a lot of oral arguments. Nothing is more frustrating than an opening that keeps you in suspense while the appellant drones on about facts and law out of context. Hunton’s Mike Shebelskie solved this problem with a perfect appellant’s opening: “May it please the Court, my name is Mike Shebelskie. I represent BigCorp. The trial court’s judgment should be reversed because ___________.” Sexy? No. But it’s crystal clear and perfectly efficient. It’s also polite, in that Shebelskie introduces himself. I wish people would memorize this formulation and use it unless they have an absolutely killer opening.
- Slow down. I speak quickly when I get excited, too. Get over it. No one can follow a legal argument delivered by the Micro Machines guy.
- Don’t interrupt the justices. Ever. Chief Justice Hassell had to interrupt a lawyer who kept trying to talk over Justice Keenan. He politely instructed the lawyer to let Justice Keenan finish. Yikes. The goal is to persuade, not berate.
Hope that salvaged a little value for the post.