The big news from the Illinois Appellate Lawyers Association luncheon to honor the Second District justices yesterday came when Presiding Justice R. Peter Grometer announced the court would definitely increase the number of cases receiving oral argument in the coming year. For as long as I can remember, the Second District Illinois court has been known for not allowing oral argument. No reason for the change in philosophy was given.
Increasing the number of oral arguments bucks the trend we’re seeing in many appellate courts. I wrote some about this in my recent article, “How To Write An Appellate Brief That Judges Want To Read And Answers Their Questions.” And while catching up on my reading, I read Susan Larsen’s comments, in a January 18, 2007 discussion in D. Todd Smith’s very fine Texas Appellate Law Blog. Larsen, formerly a justice on the Texas Court of Appeals, posits that oral argument forces judges to focus on the real people in a dispute and not “just theorize with briefs and transcripts and law books and computer research.”
Most lawyers routinely request oral argument. But most appellate judges I’ve spoken to say that oral argument rarely changes the way judges view a case. Many judges stick by the old saw that you can’t win a case at oral argument but you can lose one. So if the benefits of oral argument are minimal, and you’re more likely to hurt yourself than you are to help, then maybe we shouldn’t be so fast to prop up our egos with routine requests for oral argument.