Real-Life Lawyering: Second Circuit Oral Arguments at NYU Law
Nearly the whole 1L class packed Tishman Auditorium on March 5, leaving only a few seats to spare as NYU School of Law hosted live Second Circuit oral arguments. Judges Barrington D. Parker, Robert Katzmann, and Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum (a district court judge sitting by designation) presided over the proceedings from the auditorium stage while as many as 500 sets of eyes watched them from their seats. From the floor, attorneys representing both sides of four different appellate cases awaited their turn at the podium to give an oral presentation of their client’s position. The cases spanned an array of topics ranging from statute of limitations concerns to the consideration of aspects of Russian law.
Speaking of spectrums, the wide range of lawyering skills and abilities was almost immediately apparent after observing the eight attorneys giving their presentations. The arguments gave the audience insight into what the judges found persuasive and what type of advocacy style they responded to the best (which seemed to vary among the judges). These arguments were previously submitted to the court in written form by way of legal briefs, which students had an opportunity to review beforehand. Despite the dozens of pages in these briefs, advocates were kept to a mere 10 minutes for their arguments, with a few additional minutes provided for rebuttal.
Not all 10 minutes were filled with the attorneys’ arguments, however. Many times judges would jump right in after an advocate’s introduction, seemingly guiding arguments away from what was originally planned. The dynamic between the panel of judges and the attorneys giving the presentations felt, at times, adversarial, as the judges pushed them to answer their questions clearly and concisely. Throughout the morning, the judges would sometimes have to make several attempts to get an answer to a specific question. The three judges were also unabashed in expressing their concerns, and each judge tended to focus on different points of the case.
As mentioned at the question-and-answer session with the judges following the arguments, the Second Circuit is one of the few circuits to take a generous approach to the concept of hearing oral arguments in appellate cases. Judge Cedarbaum stressed the importance of oral argument for its ability to create a free-flowing dialogue between attorney and judge; this interaction could potentially elicit new information not otherwise included within the briefs submitted to the court.
In the next two months, almost every member of that audience will begin drafting and submitting their own briefs to the “court” and will be giving oral arguments in front of volunteer judges from across the city. Access to the appellate briefs written by the attorneys present at the Second Circuit oral argument will prove hugely beneficial for organizational and structural guidance, while the oral argument will undoubtedly help us prepare and present succinct, persuasive arguments when it comes time for our own nerve-wracking experience.