Finishing up lessons from my foray up north, I learned lots of interesting things — e.g. it's a felony to "alarm" the queen. But there are two points that I think may be of potential relevance to our subject, appellate practice in Maine.
First, the Honorable Mr. Justice David W. Stratas from the Federal Court of Appeals (sort of like our US Courts of Appeals) gave an excellent presentation on how to draft an effective brief and present a good argument. Many of the points he made have been discussed in previous entries, so I won't repeat them here, but one point he made gave me food for thought.
Typically, he said, when a lawyer perceives that s/he has one judge on a panel on his or her side, the lawyer then spends the rest of the argument ignoring that judge and trying to persuade the other judges. This is not always the best strategy, he noted. Given the dynamics of a panel, sometimes judges may feel one way or another about how an appeal should turn out, but have no strong feelings about the outcome. Under such circumstances, it is extremely helpful to have one of those on the panel really invested in the result that goes your way. You want a champion for your side in that room when they are talking about what they plan to do. So you don't necessarily want to give short shrift to the judge on your side in an argument, but rather get him or her riled up, to go in there afterwards and make your case. This, I think, is very good advice.
The last point I want to note goes to moots. I've blogged on them before, and everyone generally thinks they are a good idea, but they can cost a lot of money. In our rarified U.S. Supreme Court world, for various reasons, there are institutes and law schools that will do moots for free for folks about to argue in front of that Court. In order to assist in elevating the quality of argument before the Canadian Supreme Court, they have established a Supreme Court Advocacy Institute to provide a forum for mooting, and over half of those arguing in front of the Court take advantage of the opportunity. I believe it involves volunteers from the bar, and I didn't hear any further details.
During one of the breaks, I spoke to a U.S. law school professor, and she mentioned that her school was contemplating creating a similar forum for appellate arguments in her jurisdiction.
I wonder what the Maine law school/MSBA/whomever would think of taking similar steps – whether it would interest those appearing before the Law Court or First Circuit. Maybe you could do it regionally, with UNH and/or a Massachusetts law school. Something to ponder? Remember, we welcome comments, so if you have any thoughts on this (or anything else), please let us know! you can click comments, or just send me and email at firstname.lastname@example.org.