By Ava Motes
Sophomores Luka Verheul and Alden Harris argued their first appellate case this morning, surprising both themselves and their opponents when the judge ruled in their favor.
“I felt so unprepared, I can’t believe we actually won,” said Harris, “It still feels like we didn’t deserve it.”
The pair was competing against another group from their school, who had spent over a month assembling their arguments. Harris and Verheul, on the other hand, wrote their opening statements twenty minutes before the trial began. Underdressed and unconfident, they went into the trial under the presumption that they would lose gruesomely to their peers.
Verheul and Harris faced an array of obstacles over the course of this morning.
“We overslept, we forgot to print our brief, our carpool almost left without us because we were running late, and the suit I planned to wear didn’t fit anymore,” said Verheul, “it was just like every little thing that could have gone wrong did.”
Verheul forced to attend the conference wearing loose-fitting thrifted trousers, vans, and sweatshirt. He felt entirely out of place by comparison to all of the other competitors.
“I didn’t think they’d take me seriously. The other team walked in looking insanely professional, and I was in a hoodie,” said Verheul.
“The past 24 hours were just so stressful,” said Verheul, who had gone to bed at 2 a.m. after sleeping-over at Haris’ house the previous night.
They had expected to buckle-down on their preparations the night before, but procrastinated to the point that productivity was no longer feasible.
“We would just keep saying ‘let’s watch one more video on YouTube, then we’ll prepare.’” Verheul said, “We just got into this mindset of putting it off because we were just so nervous.”
Two weeks prior, Harris and Verheul missed the deadline for appellate brief submissions and feared that they would be barred from participating.
“I didn’t even feel like preparing anymore because it just seemed like we wouldn’t be allowed to come,” said Harris.
The shaken feeling accompanying such insecurities stuck with them both, even after they were told that they still had the opportunity to compete. This compounded with first-time jitters, leaving the pair feeling unstable in their knowledge of the case general appellate proceedings. They were unsure of what to expect, and it seemed as though their work leading up to the conference was insufficient.
“We really did know the specifics of the case well, but I was worried that we couldn’t hold up in heavy debate,” said Harris.
However, appellate trials are not the extensive due process debates that they are often made out to be. Such trials are controlled and contained, testing your knowledge and interpretation as opposed to your use of flashy argument tactics. Effective public speaking skills are important for swaying a judge to rule in your favor, but it is just as vital for attorneys to understand the foundation of their case and respond to questions clearly.
After Harris and Verheul realized that the trial would not function as they had feared, they were able to proceed with more confidence.
“What we had expected was just so much worse than how it actually was. Once we realized that we could do this, despite everything we had been telling ourselves, everything went well,” said Harris.
Ultimately, Harris and Verheul were able to surge ahead of their opponents.
“We were respectful and clear, and I think that really impressed the judge,” said Verheul. Despite their last-minute preparations, they knew all of the answers to the questions posed to them and were able to respond thoroughly.
“I think we just needed to realize that everything was okay, and we actually knew our stuff,” said Harris.
The pair were able to prove themselves during their first trial, giving them the reassurance they needed to proceed with success throughout the remainder of the conference.