It’s that time of year when 1Ls start preparing for their first oral argument. In a class on how to prepare, I’ll be sure to share this tweet from experienced SCOTUS advocate Bob Loeb of Orrick:
The card given to you by the Supreme Court Clerk before argument has last minute advice. pic.twitter.com/j6l63f9ZLa
— Bob Loeb (@BobLoeb) January 10, 2018
As the card shows, even expert advocates benefit from a sort of security blanket in a high-pressure situation. And precisely because a SCOTUS argument is so important, holding the card gives the advocates a small bit of extra mental bandwidth. They can reallocate this bandwidth to the actual substance of the argument. Of course, experienced SCOTUS advocates do not really need notes for the opening moments of their arguments. They probably never look at the card. But just having the card can provide some piece of mind.
Beginning advocates also need notes, partly to avoid the possibility of going blank. (This happened to me in my 2L trial advocacy class and it was a lot like this, but scarier.) Beginners are more likely to cling to their notes and read them even when they don’t need to. But ideally, the notes serve a similar purpose to the Supreme Court card. Having them as a backup can reassure the advocate, freeing up mental bandwidth to think more about substance, and maybe even listen more intently to the questions.
There is one difference in the SCOTUS card and cards that 1Ls might make for themselves—a 1L’s creation does not double as a library card:
I love that it also functions as a hall pass for the library. Helpful and functional.
— Sixth Circuit Blog (@6thCirBlog) January 10, 2018
Question for readers: How do you make sure your notes are a help, not a hindrance, in public speaking—oral argument or any other formal setting?