By Tandis Taghavi
As a 1L, you may have thought your first semester of Legal Skills wasn’t that bad…after all, how hard can writing formal and informal memos be? You may have boogied into your Legal Skills II class with the same impression. However, as you cheerfully picked out your seat on the first day of class and briefly glanced at the syllabus, suddenly your palms became sweaty, your knees were weak, your arms were heavy, and you were trying not to vomit your mom’s spaghetti (in the words of Eminem). While the words, “Oral Argument Assignment,” violently jumped off the page, only 2% of your class seemed to rejoice. If you are like most, you were probably ignited with a prickly case of hives and suddenly had a “Sirius” urge to grab your backpack and run to the unplottable graveyard of Azkaban.
“I felt weird, like I’d never be cheerful again…”—Ron Weasley
Like Harry (and myself), you may have felt chills as the windows turned to ice and a cloaked, dreary dark creature (Oh no…. Dementors!!) hovered behind you and slowly began to suck the happiness, hope, life, and peace out of you.
But don’t fear, Professor Remus Lupin is here!
Follow Directions —and Avoid the “Grim”
No matter whether you just completed your 1L argument with trembling hands or you are a seasoned Moot Court competitor, one of the most important things to remember, during any oral argument, is to carefully listen to the judge’s questions. Nothing really seems to irritate a court or your professors more than ignoring a question. Well…following directions is a close second. For this reason judges can sometimes be compared to a grey hippogriff named Buckbeak. Improperly responding or failing to follow the court’s directions might cause the judges to dig their talons into the heart of your argument. (Hint #9: ALWAYS respond with “your honor.” Always. This is one of the most important mandatory phrases but is often commonly forgotten.)
Remember these judges control your fate. By listening carefully and following directions you may avoid finding a Grim in your tea cup. (Hint #10: While confidence is key, don’t be a know-it-all. If you are doing it right, oral arguments are really not an argument; they are more like a civilized, academic discussion. The proper tone of the conversation should be respectful. It should be understood that the judges (1) are more important than you; (2) know more about the law than you do; BUTTTT (3) know less about the specific facts of your case than you. Point (3) is where you need to focus and excel.)
Use “Charm” and Shape-Shifters to Own the Room:
While your nerves might seem like an omen of death, there is a defense—using charm and shape-shifting—against these Dark Arts (nerves). Professor Lupin teaches about “Boggarts.” These shape-shifters take the shape of a person’s worst fear (for some, that might be an angry judge starring at you ferociously after asking you a “gut punch” question). Like Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, there is no telling for sure what kind of judge you’ll get. You could come across a vomit-flavored bean (cold bench) or even Pepper Imps (hot bench causing smoke to raise out of your ears). Similar to Boggarts, no one knows what form the judges will take nor what questions they will ask—this is why oral advocates, 1L through 3L, experience anxiety. Just like Bertie Bott’s Beans, your arguments also suffer a risk with every mouthful. (Hint #11: Beware the four P’s: Poise, Pitch, Presentation, and Preparation.) However, with a robust mind, relaxed tone, firm case knowledge, and good concentration, a flick of your wand following “Riddikulus” will force the Boggart to assume a less-threatening and more comical form
“Dementors force us to relive our very worst memories. Our pain becomes their power.”—Professor Lupin
While the magical community knows and can see when Dementors are near, muggles only feel the effects and have given it the name of apprehension. To avoid your nerves overpowering, “Marauder’s Map” (a file folder outline) must be created and also memorized. Not only does this map show every classroom (holding of the cases), every hallway (reasoning of the case), and every corner of the castle (authority of the court), but it also shows every inch of the grounds (theme of opening/closing), as well as all the secret passages that are hidden within its walls (distinguished cases) and the location of every person on the grounds (cites from the record and cases). It is also capable of accurately identifying each person and is not fooled by Polyjuice Potions (questions of fact) or invisibility cloaks (questions of law). It should be noted that even the most experienced Hogwarts legends (veteran attorneys) use the map.
Upon stating the words, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” your “roadmap” should reveal secret passwords (answers) that’ll guide you through the dark, secret passages (questions) of the castle (the court) (Hint #12: Your map must be so well rehearsed that you not only know the location of everyone, but you know what they are doing every minute, of every day. Brilliant, isn’t it? Looking beneath the walls (precedent cases) you can discover secret passages that can answer the court’s probable questions. Practice, practice, and then practice some more. As adjunct professor Corey Garrard once advised me, “the most successful advocates are the ones who are compelled by their nervous energy to rehearse and fine tune ad nauseum. Those who succeed are those who are willing to put it all on the table, willing to fail, willing to be judged.”)
Keep Calm, Carry On, and Eat Chocolate (Frogs)!
“Happiness can be found even in the darkest times if one only remembers to turn on the light.”—Professor Dumbledore
Although during your execution, following Marauder’s Map might lead to the footsteps of a dead man, Peter Pettigrew (the limits of your position), using animagi (policy) can effectively disguise and transfigure your answers to spare your life for the remaining time period. However, sometimes regardless of how much we prepare and rehearse, we can still feel overpowered in the presence of Dementors. As former Supreme Court justice Robert H. Jackson stated, “I made three arguments of every case. First came the one I planned as I thought, logical, coherent, complete. Second was the one actually presented-interrupted, incoherent, disjointed, disappointing. The third was the utterly devastating argument that I thought of after going to bed that night.” (Hint #13: You must remember no matter how rough you thought your argument was, at the end of the day this is all just a learning experience. No matter what happens in the given time frame, stand tall and speak loudly and confidently even if you feel like you’re about to faint.)
Remember that Harry fainted numerous times when facing Dementors. He continuously wondered why Dementors affected him so much more than everyone else. Nevertheless, you can’t compare yourself to the rare exceptions (like Sirius Black) who are naturally gifted with standing up and speaking persuasively in front of a crowd of people (escaping Azkaban) without letting Dementors affect their emotions.
Concurrently it is also worth mentioning, the mood-enhancing properties of chocolate are well known in both the muggle and wizard worlds. Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, for it releases endorphins in the body. It is essential to not get discouraged from your first oral argument, or any argument that wasn’t your strongest. While chocolate frogs can be a short-term remedy, finding ways to fight off Dementors are essential in the long-run.
Therefore, the best remedy against a Dementor’s Kiss is the Patronus Charm (Expecto Patronum, undoubtedly the most powerful defensive charm). Based on repeated practice, perseverance, and positive energy, the much-practiced charm will shield from being feed on by Dementors, no matter the quantity. Sometimes the things we are most fearful of are the things we learn the most from!
Tandis Taghavi, a 1L at California Western School of Law, was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She completed her bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in business at Texas A&M University. Lastly, but most importantly, she’s a huge football fanatic . . . go COWBOYS!!