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Conference-hall-with-microphonesThere’s a first time for everything. But when it’s your first oral argument in an appellate court, the task ahead can seem overwhelming. Your every word will be scrutinized. A single stray statement could mean, for your client, the difference between victory and defeat—and, for yourself, the difference between a promising professional trajectory and something quite different. The 10 tips below comprise a step-by-step guide for preparing and delivering oral argument for the first time. By following them, you’ll not only survive, but likely enjoy, your time at the podium—and perhaps even come back for more.

Know the materials cold. Your goal is to know every single thing about your case before you appear before the panel. That means reading, and re-reading, and re-reading again, the briefs until you’ve memorized every argument—yours and your opponent’s. It means reviewing every case cited in the briefs, and knowing every detail of the most important cases: their facts, their reasoning, their outcomes, and how they support your position or don’t support your opponent’s position. It means poring over the record until you know every last critical fact, and where it is located. Sounds daunting? It is. Sounds time-consuming? Correct. But there is no substitute for putting in this time and effort, which should begin at least several weeks before your argument. As the saying goes: If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.

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