Appellate Insights

Nov 11, 2022 Laurie J. Hepler
Back to Basics on Oral Argument

Preparing for oral argument is arduous.  It requires close review of the record, the law and the briefs.  Predicting questions—both adverse and favorable—is also key.  But none of that will be much help if you can’t clearly address these basics:

  1. What is the core point I must win?  (Hopefully not more than one, but if so, isolate each.)
  2. What is my opponent’s best response to that?
  3. What’s my most convincing reply?
  4. What point does my opponent have to win – and what’s my best response to that?
  5. What is the reply likely to be, and how can I head it off?

Take it from California Supreme Court Justice Carol Corrigan, who advised this approach at the recent “View From the Bench” conference in San Francisco!  Your panel may go other directions, of course—but this ground is almost sure to be covered, in one guise or another.

►  The practical message:  Don’t get so wrapped up in predicting hard questions that you miss the basic ones—and be ready to get straight to the point.

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