Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Appellate Court

So one of the many reasons work has been quite busy this week is because I was preparing for my very first argument in appellate court. I've written two or three appellate briefs (I know, its terrible that I can't remember exactly how many, but I honestly lose track of the different cases I have worked on), but before this week I had never actually argued in front of the appellate court. I was scared, but I knew it was not something I could pass up when my boss asked me if I wanted to argue this case. It is not that I didn't want the opportunity, but I was terrified of subjecting myself to a panel of appellate justices.
In appellate court each side has 20 minutes to argue their case, but during that twenty minutes you have to be prepared to be interrupted, questioned, and argued with. (In my case the justices actually took a full hour in questions us). It is considered the justices job to attack your argument, and conceding on an issue or providing the wrong answer can cause your argument (and entire case) to crumble and fail. And while it is important to answer every question the justices poses, it is also crucial to stay on track and not allow their questions to cause you to stray from the issues at hand or prevent you from getting your point across.
One thing that one of the partners has taught me is that the difference between winning and losing, is often, how you frame the issue. Therefore, in my argument before the appellate court it was crucial that I stressed the right points and didn't allow the appellee's irrelevant arguments derail or distract from the point of our appeal - which was that the prior decision was arbitrary.
Much to my surprise the argument went really well (especially considering my limited experience). If I haven't mentioned already, I represented the appellant (person appealing the decision), and for that reason I expected to be eaten alive. The person appealing hasthe burden (to prove that the prior decision was wrong) and therefore the court will generally attack all your arguments and be harder on you. Fortunately, that wasn't the case for me, I think the justices were actually harder on the appellee - which was good for me and my case.
I was scared to death, and am honestly still in shock that I was able to stand there and clearly, cohesively, give favorable responses to every question they threw my way. It was like my adrenaline took over and I just calmly and naturally answered each question with confidence. (I can't help but feel that God was present, because it went so ridiculously smooth and so much better than I had expected).
I know most people assume that attorneys are good at arguing and quick thinking - but honestly, I never had these skills (naturally). But after this week I realize that these are skills that I am learning and developing - and that, is such a great feeling!
As to whether we will win - it is still a long shot - my boss told me that only about 20% of these decisions are reversed. Although it would be an extra bonus to win this case simply because I am a "first year attorney" who "knows nothing."

No comments: