• School of Law

  • LRW Oral Arguments

    Expectations and Information

    The best source of information about the oral argument is always your Legal Writing instructor and the detailed instructions for the assignment that you received in class. Your instructor may have special requirements or expectations in addition to any identified below. However, these are some general guidelines for an oral argument:

    Format

    There are certain formal requirements in an oral argument, such as beginning with "May it please the Court?" and an introduction of yourself and your client or addressing any judge as "Your Honor". It is important to follow these rules so that the court is able to focus on the substance of your legal arguments rather than on any perceived rudeness on your part. Further, it will be especially important to organize your arguments well, using introductions and "roadmaps" and transitions to help your listener follow the arguments you present.

    Legal Authorities

    By the time you give your oral argument, you should be able to succinctly state the rules that relate to your client's issue(s) and cite and accurately questions about the authorities that establish those rules. You should also understand the standard of review the court will apply to to your client's case on appeal.

    Client Facts

    By the time you give your oral argument, you should be familiar with all of the relevant facts in the record. You should be able to recite them and to explain how any given fact strengthens your client's position - or in the case of unfavorable facts, why they are not as bad for your client as the opposing party might suggest.

    Questions from the Judges

    A key part of the oral argument is how you respond to questioning from the judges. Ideally, you should answer each question with a simple "Yes, Your Honor" or "No, Your Honor", and then give a more detailed response that includes legal authorities and client facts. If you do not understand a question, ask the judge to clarify before you try to answer. You should treat oral arguments as a conversation with the court. This means that you should listen to the court carefully and not interrupt the judges when they are speaking.

    Persuasion

    An oral argument is still a persuasive exercise, so you should use persuasive language in your introduction and arguments. Strong arguments in support of your client and effective rebuttal of your opponent's arguments will also give your oral arguments persuasive power. You should also try to appear confident in the merits of your client's case and their entitlement to the relief sought. Conviction on your part will make your legal and policy arguments more persuasive.

    Professionalism and Demeanor

    As in any public speaking exercise, you can present your oral argument more effectively by doing things like: maintaining good posture, making eye contact with the judges, avoiding nervous gestures, employing other gestures to emphasize your points, speaking clearly, and slowly and loudly enough to be heard and understood.

    Samples

    Your legal writing class will probably have the opportunity to observe other students delivering oral arguments, and your instructor may have other examples of attorneys making oral arguments. In addition, you may find recordings of actual oral arguments in the following links:

    The Oyez Project - Oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court
    MN Judicial Branch Oral Argument Videos - Oral arguments before the Supreme Court of Minnesota

    Please contact Mary Trevor (mtrevor@hamline.edu) for more information about this project.