Trial Advocacy: Great Class, or Greatest Class?

Some people come to law school knowing what they want to do with their JD: maybe further a lifelong interest in public service, maybe they knew that their math degree would be an asset to a tax law career. All I knew for sure was what I was not going to do: talk in front of people. I was all about transactional practice, no litigation for me thanks. At 5’1″, naturally soft spoken and with a NYC-paced speech pattern if not actual accent (which is exceedingly odd that I picked up during my childhood in suburban Philadelphia but that’s neither here nor there), public speaking was an uphill battle I had no inclination to fight.

In a way I was glad that BU requires 1L participation in the Moot Court competition, because I knew that it was a valuable experience and knew with an equal certainty that I would never elect to do it voluntarily. The feedback I received from the judges was predominantly along the lines of “What we heard of your argument was really good, but… we couldn’t hear most of it.” This simply wasn’t going to do. Maybe I’d never be up in front of a courtroom, but I’d certainly have to speak to conference rooms and other assemblages. I should work on this.

I decided to take Trial Advocacy solely for the experience of forcing myself to speak in front of a class every week for a semester. It was the scariest thing I could thing of, which is why I knew it was so important that I do it.

It was scary, and a good deal of preparation was required every week… but it was also way more fun than I anticipated, from “witnesses” (i.e. fellow students) who got the giggles to not being entirely sure what you were objecting to but just having the sense that it was appropriate and justifying your outburst as you went along. The instructor, a federal district court judge, told me that although I definitely had to get my pacing under control, he’d seen being softer-spoken serve as a tremendous asset in his courtroom (especially during longer litigation when a jury could easily tire of too much bluster and gusto).

The course culminated in a full scale trial in the judge’s courtroom, giving us the actual experience of standing up in district court to address a jury (comprised of my sister and friends and relatives of my co-counsel and opposing counsel), cross-examining a witness (a friend bribed into participation with a bottle of wine), the works. And while it was terrifying, it was also an incredibly exhilarating experience. While there’s still a lot I’m interested in in other forms of legal practice, now I’m not so sure about a transactional-only career trajectory after all.

One Comment

rocco beatrice posted on July 9, 2016 at 5:45 pm

That Trial Advocacy is definitely an eye-opener. I loved it, but it is not for everyone. A friend of mine from Law school had to actual drop out of the class because he just did not want to deal with the public-speaking side of it. I have to say that if you are going to work as a lawyer, you have to over come those fears.

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