[Posted August 30, 2016] Let’s suppose you’re a beginning trial lawyer, and you’re looking forward to starting an active trial practice. You’ve got your first trial set for a couple of months from now, but other than demonstrations in law school, you’ve never seen an actual trial. Sure, you’ve seen trials in TV dramas; but not an actual trial with an actual judge and actual parties.

Would it make you a tad uncomfortable to head off to your first case without seeing a live trial? Of course it would. A wise mentor would advise you to spend a day or two in a local court watching other lawyers try cases, to give you a feel for what happens. You’d get a sense of the rhythm of litigation – something that differs markedly from what’s on television – and of how judges handle matters that arise as the case unfolds.

Let’s translate that to the appellate arena: if you’re about to handle your first appeal, or your first appeal in a while, you would be well-advised to go to watch the justices in action before it’s your turn to step to the lectern. This week presents the one and only instance each year in which they bring the justices to the people: the Supreme Court convenes writ panels tomorrow and Thursday in Albemarle County and Norfolk, in addition to Richmond. This is the only time all year in which the court sits somewhere other than at Ninth and Franklin in downtown Richmond. Court insiders call them “the road shows.”

As with all other court proceedings, the hearings are open to the public. Don’t try to bring a cell phone (or any other electronic device) into the court, even if your local court permits attorneys to do that. Court convenes Wednesday at 9:00 am in the Albemarle Circuit Court; at 1:00 pm that day at the Supreme Court Building in Richmond; and at 9:30 am Thursday in Norfolk Circuit Court. Go and watch. You’ll see some good arguments and some [ahem] not-so-good arguments; most important, you’ll get a sense of appellate practice in situ. That can only help you as you represent your own clients at that level.