An appellate court grants oral argument when it believes that argument will help it make a decision. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that nothing disappoints the Alabama Supreme Court more than poor presentations by attorneys who have been given the privilege of arguing their clients' cases.
The Court has prepared for oral argument – so should you. In most instances, the Justice to whom the case has been assigned has circulated a bench memorandum summarizing the facts, issues, and arguments. Sometimes, a proposed opinion has been circulated, and the Court may have already discussed the case. To be prepared to help the Court, you must diligently review the record, carefully study the briefs, become familiar with the relevant cases, identify likely questions, and plan your responses to the questions.
Although we call it an argument, you must not argue with the Court or opposing counsel. Oral argument might better be described as a discussion between informed counsel and a bench hoping to become better informed by the arguments. During this discussion, there are a few things that you should remember:
- You should welcome questions from the Court; people ask questions about matters that they feel are important. Do not evade the Court's questions; instead, answer them directly and fully before returning to your planned presentation.
- Your time will be quite limited. Focus on your principal legal arguments, not the facts.
- Play by the rules. Stay behind the podium and obey the time limitations. If your time expires while you are in the middle of a thought or a sentence, do not proceed without asking the Chief Justice for permission.