One of the best parts of our New York office’s downtown location is that the courthouses are a 10-minute walk away (or a 15-minute walk if you slow down a bit to enjoy a scenic route through City Hall Park in the summer). This means that it’s quite easy to take advantage of observational opportunities.
Courtroom experiences are totally different from what we learn in law school. There’s something very special about watching attorneys make last minute preparations for a high-stakes oral argument in the office, then marching over to court while discussing the most difficult issues one last time along the way. At the last oral argument I got to watch at SDNY, both sides arrived early and ran into each other in the hallway outside the courtroom. The introductions were very cordial, but felt somewhat strained due to the understandable tension in the air.
That tension makes sense once the judge arrives, because the action becomes absolutely frenetic. You may have all sorts of clever and neatly organized arguments prepared, but judges have their own minds. From that bench, they can probe your points in all sorts of unexpected orders and angles. Using the judge’s inquiries as jump-off points, I had front row seats to observe two seasoned attorneys parry and riposte each other’s arguments. When it got too complicated or quick, I had attorneys next to me who could help explain the action. It felt a little like sitting courtside at Madison Square Garden, while also having the coaching staff write down and commentate each play!
The post-argument discussion is fascinating in its own right—I remember walking alongside my partner mentor as he discussed all the things that went well, as well as things he and the team could have done better. When I made it back to my desk, I did my own internal debriefing by trying to write down and organize every interesting or insightful observation.
All of my classmates and myself have loved our court visits. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll be using our summer season tickets again in the near future.