Helping Trial Lawyers Navigate the Appellate System

Appellate Practice and Procedure Lesson 6: Oral Argument and the Decision

Screenshot 2015-03-21 09.38.44This post features the video and slidedeck for the sixth lecture in my Appellate Practice and Procedure course, which I introduced here. The presentation appears after the jump.

This topic is timely for me as I prepare to stand at this podium and argue before the Texas Supreme Court later in the week. The courtroom—which I first encountered when working as a law clerk to Justice Raul Gonzalez in the mid-1990s—reflects the Court’s rich history.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

Oral argument presents an opportunity to zero in on the key issues in your case and to address the justices’ questions directly. Preparation is key. Outline the points you’d like to make, but don’t read from a script or from your brief. Anticipate questions you might get from the panel and consider how you would answer them. Update your research, study any on-point cases released since the briefs were filed, and prepare to address how those cases might apply to yours.

Be Conversational, But Respectful

At the argument, make eye contact with the justices, call them by name, and maintain a conversational tone. When you’re asked a question, answer it as directly as you can and weave the answer into your broader theme. And when the little red light comes on, ask whether you may conclude your point before sitting down.

Here are some other posts about oral argument I’ve published over the years:

Leave your questions or comments below, or use the hashtag #APandP to facilitate discussion on Twitter via @AppellaTex or @dtoddsmith. We will pick up again on March 30 with Lesson 7: Rehearing and Higher Court Review.

D. Todd Smith
About the Author

D. Todd Smith is an Austin-based civil appellate specialist who works with trial teams from the earliest stages of litigation. In trial courts, he takes the lead on strategic analysis and briefing, jury charges, and potentially dispositive motions, all with a focus on preserving error and positioning cases for appellate review.

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