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Virginia Justices explore 'Art of Appellate Advocacy' in law video

  • Views from the Bench
    Views from the Bench  (From left) Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr. (B.A. ’71, J.D. ’74), Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons, former Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser, and Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn are among the Virginia justices who share their candid observations in the video on brief writing, oral advocacy, and other topics.  
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A new video produced by William & Mary Law School explores the “Art of Appellate Advocacy” and features current justices of the Supreme Court of Virginia. The video is available for free viewing online, William & Mary Law School announced today.  

Jeffrey A. Breit, adjunct professor at William & Mary Law School and advisor to the school’s Trial Team Program, spearheaded the project. He said the video “was created for lawyers and law students as an educational tool to deepen their understanding of appellate advocacy and help them prepare to practice before the Court.”

Participants include Chief Justice Donald W. Lemons, former Chief Justice Cynthia D. Kinser, Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn, Justice LeRoy F. Millette, Jr. (B.A. ’71, J.D. ’74), Justice William C. Mims (B.A. ’79), and Justice Cleo E. Powell. Justice Elizabeth A. McClanahan (B.A. ’80) was not able to be on hand for the taping, and Justice D. Arthur Kelsey (J.D. ’85) was sworn in after the interviews were completed.

The project was made possible by the support of the Law School, the Virginia Trial Lawyers Foundation, and the Bruce D. Rasmussen Trial Advocacy Scholarship Endowment Fund.

“In the video,” Breit said, “the justices offer thoughtful, frank, and occasionally humorous observations on brief writing, oral advocacy, issue identification, and the role of the Court. They also provide candid answers on many other topics, including their decision-making processes, the personal journeys that led them to the bench, and the pressures and rewards of serving on the Commonwealth’s highest court.”

Viewers have the option of watching the complete two-hour discussion or shorter excerpts organized by justice and by topics such as Decision and Opinion, Life Experiences, Oral Arguments, and Role of the Courts.  The website also includes information about the Court and short biographies of each justice.

Breit noted the idea for the video came from his admiration of a series of videotaped interviews conducted by Brian A. Garner with U.S. Supreme Court justices.  Instead of interviewing the justices one-on-one, however, he said he wanted to have the justices gather together at one time to field questions as individuals and as a group, to allow for and encourage interaction between them.  

“I thought the group format, if we could achieve it, would provide extraordinary insight into the workings of the Court and the minds of its justices,” Breit said.  

Professor Laura Heymann, vice dean and professor of law at William & Mary, worked with Breit to formulate questions for the jurists and also served as moderator for the discussion, which the school recorded last fall at the Court building in downtown Richmond, Va.

Heymann said she enjoyed her role in the project and was very appreciative of the justices’ willingness to participate.

“I already had a tremendous amount of respect for each of the justices in their professional capacities,” Heymann noted. “But the interview also gave me a deeper understanding of the life experiences and other perspectives the justices bring to their work. It was a wonderfully engaging conversation.”

Breit said he hopes that the project will expand beyond Virginia and is in discussion with the highest courts in other states to participate in similar interviews. As additional interviews are completed, they will also be featured on the Law School’s website.