[Posted June 19, 2015] Have you ever wanted to sit down and chat privately with the justices of the Supreme Court, to ask them to muse on judging and the life of a justice? Maybe ask for a few hints on how to become a better advocate? Well, I can’t offer you a ticket into the inner sanctum at Ninth and Franklin, but here’s the next-best thing: William & Mary’s Law School has produced a roughly two-hour video entitled, “The Art of Appellate Advocacy,” featuring a group interview with six members of the court. It’s been uploaded to the school’s website, and is available here.

The discussion is led by W&M Law Assistant Dean Laura Heymann, who sits down with former Chief Justice Kinser, current Chief Justice Lemons, plus Justices Goodwyn, Millette, Mims, and Powell. Justice McClanahan couldn’t attend the taping, and the program was shot before Justice Kelsey was elected to the court. Still, getting insight into the minds of five of the seven active justices is insight that’s well worth your time.

I got an opportunity to watch the entire program a couple of months ago. Technically, it’s beautiful; the video is sharp and the audio quality is exquisite. One minor technical flaw: occasionally the audio and video are out of sync by just a hair – perhaps an eighth of a second – and that can be disconcerting if you’re watching in high-def. But you’ll learn how the justices analyze a brief, how they divide the court’s chores, and even what life experiences shaped their careers. (This kind of information isn’t available at Target, or even at Saks Fifth Avenue.) You don’t have to set aside a block of two full hours to watch the entire program; it’s helpfully divided into segments. If you want, you can even click on a single justice and listen to a “filleted” version that’s all him, or her.

That being said, I’ll be candid: I think the program is misnamed. If it had been called “The Art of Appellate Judging,” or “The Art of Appellate Decisionmaking,” I would have been fine with it. But as I recall what I saw, there’s actually very little direct, practical advice for how to become a better advocate. It’s a great peek into the inner workings of the court, and even into the inner workings of some of the justices’ thought processes. But the viewer is left to try to figure out how to apply some of this new information into an appellate practice.

I’ll put it this way: It’s like a panel discussion among art critics on what makes a good sculpture. They can tell you how they go about judging an art show, but a critic can’t tell you how to turn a marble block into something remarkable. For that, you need to consult a sculptor. This project, in my opinion, tells you what the critics think but doesn’t contain anything from the sculptors.

Now, please don’t let this minor critique of the program’s name dissuade you from watching it. I enthusiastically recommend that you take the time to view it, and maybe go over some of the more important sections more than once. If you’re an appellate advocate, or even if you’re just curious about how the court operates on the inside, you won’t regret investing the time to watch it.