The highlight of many Viginia lawyer’s careers is an argument before the Supreme Court of Virginia. Many ask me, what is it like? Here is the basic procedure for writ panels, which is usually the first step in an appeal to the high court.
After a Notice of Appeal and Petition for Appeal have been filed and briefed, the Court assigns a court date without consultation with the attorneys — it presumes that a lawyer has nothing better to do because he or she probably doesn’t. (The assigned date can be changed due to extrordianry circumstances). The Court assigns a specific time for the oral argument, and requires lawyers to appear an hour beforehand. Sometimes the Court goes through its cases faster than it expects. If a lawyer is not there when the case is called, even if an hour early, the argument is deemed waived.
When a lawyer arrives, he or she passes through security. Even for lawyers, electronic devices are prohibited without advance approval. Photo identification is also required. These are public hearings, but it is not easy for the public to really attend and, frankly, there isn’t much room for them.
After security, the lawyers are checked in with a clerk who confirms the identity of the person making the argument. This is also the first time the lawyer learns which Justices are on the writ panel.
The clerk admits the lawyers into the small hearing rooms in groups — only those who are going to make an imminent argument are admitted. Everyone else waits in the hall.
In the hearing room is a staff attorney who assists the Court and he or she announces the start of the session. The Justices enter and begin calling the docket.
Each attorney gets 10 minutes to make his or her argument. There is a timer on the lecturn to let the lawyer know when time is up. It is easy to lose oneself in the argument. In addition to the practiced and prepared remarks a lawyer has ready, the Justices can and do interrupt with questions on matters important to them.
After the oral argument, there is no time limit for the Justices to rule whether or not to grant a full hearing on the appeal. Lawyers generally expect rulings within three month.