[Posted January 13, 2014] Candidly, I had despaired of ever typing the words above. But it’’s true; without any advance announcement, the Supreme Court of Virginia has begun to make publicly available the audio of oral arguments during sessions of the full court. (There will be no access to writ-panel arguments, but you shouldn’’t be greedy.) Here’’s a link to the page that includes the recordings.

Six months ago, I posted an essay on the court’’s decision to begin allowing lawyers to use laptops and tablet computers in oral arguments, beginning with the September 2013 session. I described that procedure change as “a first halting step into the 21st Century,” noting that my enthusiasm was muted because of the arcane policy prohibiting access to the audio recordings. I now offer my humble apologies to the justices, who were probably even then pondering this next, major change.

This new development is, in my opinion, a terrific step by the court. It promotes an atmosphere of openness that can only help the court’’s public image. It enables lawyers to monitor and evaluate their own performances, with an eye toward improving their oral advocacy. It can be used effectively in teaching appellate advocacy, or in allowing an inexperienced advocate to hear a variety of arguments before making the trip to Ninth and Franklin. It brings the court into sync with the great majority of other appellate courts across the nation that have embraced this concept. In short, I believe that this decision is an unqualified win for everyone involved.

As you might expect, there will be a break-in period in which everyone involved will tweak the process. For example, if you listen to some of the recordings, you’’ll frequently hear an amplified shuffling of papers from the bench; that sound sometimes obscures the advocate’’s argument. You’ll also hear a highly prominent sound when a member of the court (or an advocate) coughs, clears his throat, or blows her nose. In time, these concerns will go away; in my view, they in no way detract from the court’s welcome step forward.

Here’’s a clip from the court’s press release announcing the change:



RICHMOND: Audio recordings of oral arguments made before the full Court during session are now available on Virginia’s Judicial System Website,, beginning with cases heard Tuesday, January 7, 2014.

Audio recordings will be posted at the end of each week that the Court is in session, and will be archived and maintained on Virginia‘s Judicial System Website.