The Charleston Trial Advocacy program hosts Q&A with Colorado Supreme Court Justice Richard Gabriel

The Charleston Trial Advocacy program hosted a virtual Q&A with Colorado Supreme Court Justice Richard Gabriel on Tuesday.

Judge Gabriel was appointed to the Colorado Supreme Court in 2015. Two years later, in 2017, Colorado voted to retain Justice Gabriel on the bench for a 10-year term. Prior to his appointment as Supreme Court judge, Gabriel served on the Colorado Court of Appeals (2008- 2015).

The Q&A, led by Charleston Law 2L Jessica Hernandez, focused on two main subjects: Oral Advocacy Best Practices and Early Career Advice for law students.

You can listen to the full interview below.

The following is a brief excerpt of the Q&A:

Jessica Hernandez: What are some best practices for oral arguments you’ve learned, observed, or experienced over the years? Are there any styles, tactics, or strategies that seem to universally improve the efficacy of any oral argument? (What are some dos or don’ts to keep in mind.)

Justice Richard Gabriel: Preparation is really important and it’s remarkable how frequently lawyers are not well prepared. On some basic things, we expect you to know the law, not only your cases, but the key cases from the other side. It’s not, we’re not going to do gotcha questions. We’re going to ask about the high level. We do expect appellate lawyers to know the record. Knowing what you want. The chief justice here, his favorite question in oral arguments, what is the rule you’re asking us to adopt? You’d be surprised how often the lawyers are not able to answer that question. You should know what you want us to write as the holding.

Being yourself is important. Credibility matters. Don’t be someone you’re not. You want to be formal. Be respectful. A big don’t is don’t tell jokes. Don’t try a joke at an oral argument. They tend to fall flat when the judge makes a joke. You can laugh, but don’t try your own. I’m from Brooklyn, New York. Originally, I can talk very fast, but slow down and keep your voice up. If we can’t hear you, it’s not that helpful.  Use your limited time wisely. Get to the point, start with your best argument first.

I am a big fan of introductions and roadmaps in oral argument. Start with may it please the court, my name is so and so. This case involves whatever. We submit that the court below erred for three reasons. That’s a lovely roadmap and it serves several purposes. One, it lets the advocate calm down. You’re going to be nervous unless you’re not human. So it gives you a chance to breathe and calm down.

It is also important to get your headlines out. It may well be you’re not going to get to all the points you want to make. I argued a death penalty case some years ago where we raised a lot of issues and in a appellate argument usually raise your one or two best issues on a death penalty case that’s different. I raised a bunch of issues I think it was, and we were gonna argue five of them. I’m happy to answer any questions, but we’ve raised 10 issues in our brief. We’d like to address five of them today.

I got to the third reason, and I got interrupted with a question. You stop and you answer the question. And then the presiding judge said, Mr. Gabriel, you said there were five reasons. I got the first three. What were the other two? He was poised to take notes. So get your headlines out. So that kind of roadmap is useful.

Get to the point. Answer questions. Welcome the questions from the court. A good oral argument is like a discussion among learned colleagues. I see lawyers all the time. You get the eye roll when you ask a question. The judge’s questions are your window into what the judge is thinking and where you need to be persuaded.

Justice Gabriel is originally from New York, received his Bachelor of Arts in American Studies at Yale, and attained his Juris Doctor at UPenn where he was an articles editor for the UPenn law review. Justice Gabriel clerked for Judge Motz in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland then worked in private practice in New York City before moving to Colorado where he practiced commercial litigation, including business torts, intellectual property, and appeals.

The mission of the Charleston School of Law Trial Advocacy Board (TAB) is to prepare students to become ethical, experienced, and zealous lawyer-advocates. Participation is founded upon a student’s commitment to the pursuit of excellence in advocacy and to ethically represent the Charleston School of Law through dedication and compliance with each team’s rigorous and demanding practice schedule, when representing the Charleston School of Law in trial advocacy competitions throughout the nation.