[Posted August 6, 2007] Okay; I’ll concede that that headline is a teaser. But if you’re in the general vicinity of Roanoke, and you’re looking for some free instruction on how to be a better appellate advocate, there’s a splendid opportunity tomorrow, August 7. The court is convening a writ panel in the Circuit Court for the County of Roanoke, which is located at 305 East Main Street in Salem. As with virtually all other legal proceedings in the Commonwealth (except juvenile matters), the session is open to the public. And lawyers are part of the public.

As I sometimes tell my 12-year-old daughter, there are two ways to learn something. You can learn from your own mistakes, or you can learn from what other people have learned. The latter type of lesson is far less painful, although the former is always a more effective teacher. Still, if you’re willing to invest as little as half an hour or so, you can see three or four oral arguments, and learn for yourself how to present them (and sometimes how not to present them).

I recognize that going to watch someone else’s legal proceeding is not likely to place very high on most attorneys’ to-do lists; after all, you’re a big boy or girl, right? You know how to practice law; you don’t need to watch someone else argue an appeal.

Well, yes, you do. And unlike watching a trial, which can mean an investment of a day or more before you get a lot of meaningful insight, each oral argument will take a maximum of ten minutes, and then it’s over. If you spend just one hour in the courtroom, you can see half a dozen arguments, and maybe get an idea or two on what works when talking to an appellate panel.

Go on; sacrifice just one billable hour and go see how it’s done, before you’re the one who has to answer questions. Try the pain-free method of learning first. Of course, if you prefer pain . . .

By the way, the Court of Appeals convenes in several locations all across the Commonwealth, including Salem on a regular basis, so if you can’t make this one, there will be more opportunities. This year, that court will meet in Bristol, Fredericksburg, and Martinsville, in addition to its normal rotation of Chesapeake, Richmond, Salem, and Alexandria. Go.