An Associate's Reflections on Her First Oral Argument. The real challenge of oral argument is to be prepared to advocate for your client and to be prepared to persuade and educate the court

AuthorMary Ann Couch
Pages19-21
Appellate Practice
American Bar Association Litigation Section
Fall 2021, Vol. 41 No. 1
© 2021 by the American Bar Association. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be
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19
July 01, 2014
An Associate's Reflections on Her First Oral
Argument
The real challenge of oral argument is to be prepared to
advocate for your client and to be prepared to persuade and
educate the court.
By Mary Ann Couch
I had several appeals pending earlier this year, so it wasn’t a complete surprise when I
received the order from the Florida Third District Court of Appeal setting one of them for
oral argument. I had been waiting for this opportunity since law school. Although this
would be my first real oral argument, I had (or thought I had) some experience with
appellate arguments through participating in my law school’s moot-court program and
clerking for an appellate judge. What I didn’t realize is that nothing can really prepare you
for your first oral argumentexcept, of course, preparation itself.
About a month before the scheduled argument, I got anxious. What if I had missed an issue
in my brief? What if I had misstated the holding of a case? What if I couldn’t answer a
judge’s question? The issues on appeal were similar to many I had encountered beforea
relatively straightforward appeal of a mortgage-foreclosure judgment. Because Florida is a
judicial-foreclosure state, the bank filed suit to foreclose after the borrower defaulted. After
a non-jury trial, the court entered final judgment of foreclosure to the bank, and the
borrower appealed. The borrower raised several issues on appeal regarding the bank’s
standing to foreclose and evidence admitted at trial, but there was no dispute that the
borrower had been in default on the loan for over five years. I drafted the appellee’s brief
on behalf of the bank several months before the case was set for oral argument and, at the
time, didn’t think that the case was particularly argument-worthy. So why did the court
order oral argument in this case?
To find the answer to that question and start preparing for the argument, I thought about
the dual purposes of oral advocacy: persuasion and education. Appellate arguments
present a rare opportunity to stand before the court to persuade the judges that your client
should win and educate them by answering questions that were raised or left unanswered
in the briefs. I decided that if I knew everything there was to know about my case, I would

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