Oral Advocacy

Oral Advocacy is actually pretty fun.

I participated in the Frank Murphy Society 1L Oral Advocacy Competition this afternoon. It’s essentially a means of practicing oral arguments in front of a judge in a semi-casual, semi-formal setting, without any consequences and with a lot of feedback. Excellent training, and a really enjoyable (though sometimes stressful) experience.

Each competitor is given access to a packet, supplied by the competition, and asked to present 4 10 minute arguments, 2 arguing in the affirmative and 2 arguing in the negative, against a fellow 1L in front of a “court” of 2L and 3L’s. I confess that I neglected to prep at all until last night, but the process of creating an argument is still rather fun (if a bit tedious at times).

The best part, however, is getting up and trying your best to present your position in the strongest light possible while answering and evading a barrage of questions from the judges. I actually really enjoy the process of thinking on my feet and trying to find a clever means of applying the facts at my disposal to address an issue or controversy I had never before considered. There were moments when I failed miserably at this test (one judge simply asked “Why?” after a point I had made, and I froze completely, mind blank, utterly unable to formulate an effective counter. It was terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time), but also moments when I know I impressed judges by extricating myself out of a neat trap they had laid for me. That’s where legal work really gets exciting, and intriguing. Listening to your opposing counsel’s points and recognizing their weaknesses and addressing them the next time. Taking a judge’s question that looks to hamstring your argument and turning it around on them, making it a strength. There is a great deal of enjoyment to be had in speaking persuasively and argumentatively in public, and I think I have a chance to be, at the least, decent at it.

Not that I am now, of course. The intricacies of legal speech are entirely different from those in education. I had never noticed before, but I tend to append “right?” to the ends of points I’m making, and I realized that I did that to give students a chance to speak up if they didn’t quite understand what I was getting at. Two of my judge pairings, however, noticed it and mentioned that it might appear condescending or patronizing to some judges. Avoiding “um’s” and “uh’s” is an endemic issue, of course, but the mix of formal, professional, assertive, and conversational speech is one I’m still getting used to. I’m looking forward to doing more.

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