Friday, February 11, 2011

Speaking to a jury is harrowing, humbling

The professor in our Trial Practice class says she still gets nervous before a trial. But with enough preparation, she says the nerves usually calm just before she walks into the courtroom. Not so for me this morning when I walked into the courtroom at the law school to deliver a seven-minute opening statement to a jury of fellow students. We each had to prepare an opening statement for a mock trial, and deliver it just as we would in a real courtroom. This should have been an easy assignment for me. I'm the guy who emceed pep rallies in high school, the guy who took debate classes, who starred in class plays, and who coached little league teams. This was tougher. Way tougher. It's enough just to memorize a seven-minute speech. But then you must make it convincing, thoroughly organized, and conversational. Oh, and you need to walk around a room while delivering it. You can't speak too fast. You can't speak too slow. No shuffling, no "Umms," and no shaky hands. And it can't be argumentative. And you can't screw up any of the hundreds of facts that might be involved. Lucky for us, there was no actual defendant facing a murder charge.
In the end, I think I did pretty well. I worked on the damn thing all night and all morning, delivering it to mirrors, walls, and numerous other inanimate objects. Most law students don't become trial lawyers. I still don't know what type of law I will practice, but I highly encourage any prospective or current law student to take advantage of the opportunities you will get to hone your public speaking skills while in school. Here at U of L Law, we have a very solid mock trial program. Even if you don't participate in it, all 1Ls get a chance to take part in an oral advocacy competition in the spring. It's a harrowing experience, but you'll be better for it. And for a slice of a pretty good opening statement -- also seven minutes -- check out this one from Judge Sotomayor in her Senate confirmation hearing.

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