The hardest part of oral argument isn’t the preparation, or even standing at the podium. It’s sitting there waiting for your case to be called while your stomach does aerobics and your heart does the Macarena. Your carefully prepared notes suddenly look like gibberish. The attorney sitting next to you refuses to play scissors, rock, paper. There’s nothing to do but watch the arguments.
You can guess what kind of case it is by looking at the lawyers. The ones who cultivate the fossilized image usually represent the City. The guys five feet tall by five feet wide are consigliori appealing their clients’ two million-dollar bail. The jocks wearing their fathers’ suits are the state prosecutors. Public defender chic is to have one suit and sleep in it the night before.
Following an oral argument when you know nothing about the case is like watching an Ionesco play. Here are the verbatim notes we took at our latest session in the Appellate Division.
Appellant: Your Honor, affirming this decision would make a nullity of the General Obligations Law.
Judge: But what about the aerosol can?
Appellant: It wasn’t nearly as bad as the swastika.
Judge: Let’s hear from your adversary.
Respondent: If you turn to page 5 million of the transcript, you’ll see the co-op board had nothing to do with the alligator.
Judge: But doesn’t that indicate the market value?
Respondent: That interpretation would invalidate every contract in America.
And remember all that useless advice from moot court? “Make eye contact with all the judges.” What about the ones whose eyes are closed?
“Never grip the podium.” Well, how else are you supposed to remain standing when your legs have turned to jelly?