If you are unprepared to argue a motion, it shows. This was the take away that a significant number of my Seattle University law students noted in their reports on watching motions arguments in both state and federal court. I require that my Comprehensive Pretrial students attend a motion hearing and then write a report about what they observed. While they are free to write about whatever takes their fancy, this semester’s predominant theme was the importance of being prepared. Motion preparation is discussed at length in Pretrial Advocacy: Planning, Analysisand Strategy, 4th Edition. 

Below are some excerpts from their reports which drive home the point that a lack of preparation is apparent to not only the court but onlookers.

Pierce County Superior Court Civil and 
Criminal Motion Calendar – Student C. B.

C. B. attended a motion calendar for both civil and criminal matters, and he observed:

“I learned that it is obvious if you are not prepared to be before the court.  A few attorneys stumbled through folders while the court patiently waited for them to find what they were looking for.  I was surprised at how many times I heard things like, “Well, I just received a copy of the document a few days ago and so I haven’t exactly had time to look it over.”  I can’t tell if this goes to a lack of preparation, or the reality of the profession (or maybe both).”

United States District Court – Student N. D.

Student N.D. observed a motion for declaratory judgment concerning whether the case should be heard in federal or state court. One of the lessons that N. D. took away from the experience was the following:

“. . . if I ever plan on arguing a motion I need to be fully prepared and have a complete understanding of my case and all of its intricacies. If you are unable to answer certain questions about your case, it will downgrade the argument you are presenting even if it is on a completely different matter within the case.”

N. D. provided this example:

“When Judge X asked simple questions to the Y attorney about why federal court would be better and more efficient for his client over that of state court, the attorney, knowing his answer would be insufficient, tried to answer the questions in a round-about way by bringing up his argument for summary judgment. This delayed the entire process and frustrated Judge X as well as the opposing counsel. The Y attorney looked silly and unprepared.”

King County Superior Court – Student R. S.

Student R. S. watched the State’s motion to compel fingerprints from the defendant who was charged with Failure to Register as a Sex Offender. R. S. noted:

“The State’s performance was excellent.  The prosecutor was confident, spoke well before the judge, and had answers for every question received.  The prosecutor maintained a theme of a sex offender who persistently refused to register, despite state law, and who would continue to do so unless specific matters were taken.  The Defender, however, did not appear as prepared, spoke in a very low voice, and lacked the confidence the prosecutor had; yet, her performance was good. . .”

Another King County Superior Court Observation – Student M. T.

While some motion-observations taught the law student that the lack of preparation is obvious, other observations provided the students with opportunities to watch well prepared lawyers in action. Student M. T.’s report noted that the lawyers were well prepared but not as well prepared as others she was familiar with, as follows:

“These particular attorneys were adequately prepared to argue. They were timely, had their notes prepared, and seemed to have their arguments thought out ahead of time. However, what won out in the end was the ability to cite quickly to relevant arguments and create holes in the opponent’s case. If anything, I believe that the oral arguments we practice at school are better prepared and that we are more familiar with the cases than the attorneys that I observed. This is understandable, considering that attorneys have a full caseload in practice whereas we are given an entire semester to become familiar with the case at hand.”

When law students get out of the classroom and into the courtroom to observe trial lawyers at work, they invariably come away with valuable lessons that will stick with them as they head out into their legal careers. The lessons that preparation is critical to appearing professional and to a successful argument is an invaluable one.