On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of Virginia heard oral arguments on petitions for appeal, or “writ arguments.” Writ arguments give the appellant a chance to explain, in person, why the Court should grant his or her petition. The appellant has 10 minutes to argue before a panel of 3-4 justices. The appellee does not get to respond.

Yes, it’s as much fun as it sounds.

I didn’t get a chance to argue this time around. But I spoke with a lawyer who did, and who also watched a number of other petitioners over the course of the day. He shared some observations, which I thought were quite helpful. Sadly, our anonymous observer was not interested writing a guest post. He did, however, give me a page of handwritten notes–or what the Colonel would call an “anablog”–which I’ve stolen translated into the digital medium for your benefit:

  • Write a good petition for appeal. It’s amazing how the rest of the process falls into place if you get this step right.
  • Show up in person. Rule 5:17(g) allows you to do a writ argument by telephone. That doesn’t make it a good idea to do so. If at all possible, show up in person. You communicate much more effectively when you are able to see the justices’ facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues.
  • Keep your eye on the ball. The goal of your argument is to convince one justice to take your appeal. You don’t have to convince the whole panel. And you don’t even have to convince your one justice that you are right–it can be sufficient at this stage in the process to show that your petition presents an important question of law.
  • Get to the point. Tell the Court who you are, what the issue is, and why it should take the appeal. Here’s a handy little script: “May it please the Court, may name is x, and I represent y. This is a case about z. The trial court erred because a. The Court should grant this appeal because b.” Boring? Sure, but it does the trick and keeps you on message.
  • But don’t actually use a script. A good oral argument is like a conversation with a senior partner about a case. You don’t actually script those meetings, but you do go into them with a pretty firm idea about what you’d like to say.
  • Answer the panel’s questions. The best way to do this is to think about those questions–and your answers–in advance.

I hope you enjoyed the Anablogger’s input as much as I did. I have forwarded him a mimeographed copy of this post. If he has any comments, I will include his telegram in a future entry.

The image above is Joe Mabel’s photograph of an electric analog computer built circa 1953 at Boeing. The computer is on display at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle, and the image is used under the GDFL.