How to memorize a 10 minute, eight point oral argument in 105 minutes

Ask any law student - legal writing is the most time consuming class.    

Second semester legal writing emphasizes persuasive argument and oral advocacy.  The capstone of the persuasive course is to present your brief argument orally in front of a 3 judge panel.  

Whether you're thrilled about doing this or dread it, it's likely you'll spend a lot of energy prepping for it.  I spent 105 minutes total in one afternoon.

How?

Using better technology.  

One way to get ready for an oral argument is to cobble together a manila folder and 15 index cards with some scotch tape, like this:

I'm sure this is an excellent system, but it looks very time consuming to put together.  Plus, you'd need to practice shifting your attention between speaking and flipping the cards.  Complicated.  

Personally I wanted to focus my energy on coursework (outlining, reading ahead), so I left preparing for the argument until the day before.  

By then it was too late develop a folder system or notes that I could use seamlessly during my argument. 

I decided to just memorize my whole argument using the Memory Palace technique.  The palace is a mental landscape that you can navigate while you're doing other things - typing on the computer, talking, or in our case, presenting your oral argument.  Each important point of my argument (eight total) got matched with a discrete landmark along a familiar path, and during the talk I visualized myself 'walking' the path.

You can use landmarks that exist in the real world, or you can just construct a memorable landscape using your imagination.  I chose to use this actual walking path, from the front door of Pepperdine Law to a bench overlooking the ocean:  


I had 8 points.  Notice there are 8 stops.  Each stop corresponds to one short prompt, i.e. "Use," or "Protectability," that I wrote down on a notecard.  "Use" would remind me to begin making my desired point, "Trademark ownership is established by use, not by registration of the mark . . . "  That first sentence said, I'd remember to follow up all relevant cases and facts from the record.  

I began committing my points to memory by physically walking the path, and where I wanted to 'place' one of my points, I stood there and spoke the portion aloud.  I started doing this at 12:30pm on Friday, and finished around 2:15pm - 105 minutes total. 

By the way, I put a notecard with all my prompts in my suit jacket pocket, as a backup, just in case :).

At the end of the day, I ended up speaking for about 12 total minutes because the judge panel granted me an extended rebuttal.  

I noticed that there seems to be a 'pathfinding' compartment in my brain that remembered where I was in the argument, even as judge's questions knocked me off script.  After stepping up to the podium, all I needed to do to complete my argument in order was to remember was "have I been here yet?" to recall if I'd made a given point yet.  One more thing - this system is how easy it was to maintain eye contact with the panel.

Coda: 

-> This will only work if you have written a good argument and you grasp the material.  Each Pepperdine student has about 22 full days to work on the assignment, plus 3 coursework and class time for 3 other classes.  Because this oral argument is a fun and ungraded (but still important) rite of passage, I couldn't recommend a better approach to tackling it. 

-> If you're interested in re-using your memory palace (re-tread the path in your head and mentally 'erase' the associations), or in memorizing other material with this technique, read this interesting book by a champion 'memory' competitor

-> A straw poll via Facebook of my law school section returned: 4 people spent 240+ minutes, 7 spent 121-240 minutes, 2 (myself included) spent 60-120 minutes, and 2 spent <60 minutes.  Upon investigation I found that one person who spent under 60 minutes actually spent 'less than 1 minute' prepping because she just printed out her brief and read portions of it aloud.  It might be interesting to do another survey.