WSU Law's Motion Day provides insight into courtroom etiquette 190 first-year law students are invited to attend

By Mike Scott

Legal News

Wayne State University Law School's Motion Day is about more than students seeing how the law is discussed and issues are argued in court.

It can, for example, provide students a chance to better understand what type of clothing lawyers should wear in court.

Wayne State and the Federal Bar Association will host its annual Motion Day with Judge Bernard Friedman of the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Thursday, Jan. 27. The event will take place in the Law School's Spencer M. Partrich Auditorium.

Motion Day in part allows many students to experience a live courtroom for the first time, said Professor Anne M. Burr, director of Wayne Law's Legal Research and Writing Program. She helps to organize the day and works closely with Friedman and his schedule. It is the third year that Burr has been at Wayne State Law and has led the Motion Day activities. All 190 first-year law school students are invited.

The objective is to help them get a better understanding of the process of hearing motions for a summary judgment in a federal court, according to Burr.

Freidman actually moves his full court docket to the Partrich Auditorium on that day. Attorneys are notified well in advance of the one-day venue change.

"It's a similar process that many law schools offer at some point during the year," Burr said. "I try to set it up so that there are motions that are similar to what they see in their actual case file (for a required research and writing class)."

Motion Day provides an opportunity for students to spend a day in federal court, without leaving the law school. Experienced counsel will argue actual pretrial motions before Friedman, who will then rule or take the matters under advisement. Students are able to observe a variety of oral argument styles, as well as the procedures of the federal district court.

There are typically some trends that emerge from the Motion Day experience that Burr says her students quickly recognize. One is that many first-year students are surprised at the amount of interaction that occurs between lawyers and the judge. They will see first-hand the types of questions that a judge typically has and all the interruptions that are likely to occur.

Yet one thing that the students often pick up on from their initial observations is the mistakes and strengths displayed by the practicing attorneys. There may be times during the court proceedings that Friedman will stop to make a comment or point out something to the students in attendance. But other than that, it is a typical day in court with no outside interaction.

"Many of the students were involved with debate teams and are used to an environment where they can make a point before they are interrupted," Burr said. "But it is completely different in court and they are often taken aback at how quickly they have to respond to a judge's questions or how their train of thought can be broken."

Motion Day also teaches the first-year students to better understand how legal standards for summary judgment are applied. By seeing a case presented first-hand, they also can begin to formulate strategies and styles for an oral argument, Burr said.

Some of the more revealing information that is derived by students during Motion Day is the way that lawyers interact with the practicing lawyers. But they also get a sense of ways lawyers should carry themselves in court, what they should and shouldn't wear, along with other examples of court etiquette.

"There are so many things that the students will notice their first time in court," Burr said. "They can look at examples of common courtesy, how lawyers carry themselves, how they express themselves and more. Occasionally a practicing lawyer might forget to turn off his or her cellular phone or may wear dangling jewelry or have other examples of distractive behavior and the feedback provided by Friedman can be revealing."

This experience allows the students to better understand how to carry themselves in court. It can provide them with tips about the art of persuasion and how facts are researched, chosen, and presented.

"Above all they often learn that it is better to be up front with the judge and not to hold anything back," Burr said.

Motion Day is sponsored by the Legal Research and Writing faculty and kicks off the first-year Moot Court program. As part of that program, first-year law students at Wayne Law research and write an appellate brief for the federal court of appeals. They then argue the positions taken in their brief before three-judge panels consisting of local attorneys and members of the judiciary.

For more information about Motion Day, contact Marilyn Vaughan at (313) 577-4822. It is open to the public.

Published: Thu, Jan 20, 2011


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