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Nevada Law Review

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Sarah, a new attorney at a public defender’s office, is assigned to the appeals bureau. Ordinarily, Sarah spends her days researching and writing briefs, talking with clients, and brainstorming legal issues with colleagues. Today, however, she opened the mail to find a notice from the court setting a date for her first oral argument. She suffers the first of several anxiety attacks: rapid heart rate, racing thoughts, shortness of breath, sweaty palms, nausea, and feelings of panic and tension. As she reads the form letter, her hands tremble. This is the day she has dreaded. She loves to write and research, but the thought of appearing in front of three robed judges and getting questioned for thirty minutes seems insurmountable. Sarah tells her supervisor that she is not feeling well, takes a sick day, and goes home. There, she crawls into bed, cries, and sleeps the day away. Later, still nervous, she has two glasses of wine “to take the edge off.”

As the days go by, Sarah suffers from similar panic attacks whenever she thinks about the upcoming oral argument. Her mind has thoughts of all the worst-case scenarios. What if she is unable to deliver her oral argument? What if she stumbles? What if she embarrasses herself? What if she says something that causes her client to lose the case? What if the judges ask questions that she doesn’t know the answer to? She confides in a coworker that she is “a little nervous.” Her colleague doesn’t help matters. He says, “Yeah, you’ll feel trapped up there and it will be awful. The judges on your panel are real monsters. But you’ll muddle through. Don’t worry.”

Over a glass of wine one night, she thinks of ways she can get out of the oral argument. Perhaps she can ask to observe someone else do the oral argument and volunteer to do the next one? What if she calls in sick that day? Ultimately, she remembers that the rules of the appellate court allow her to waive oral argument and submit the case “on the papers.” She does so, to the detriment of the client, whose argument would have been stronger had Sarah taken the opportunity to try to persuade the court one last time.



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