Amanda K. Stanley, SIU Law '15
When I first decided to apply to law school, I was full of self-doubt. I did not know if I could make it, and I worried that I was too old and couldn’t keep up with all these young students. I only knew a few lawyers who supported me on my journey through law school, and even fewer were available for consultation and guidance. I did not have any lawyers in my family, and I had no idea how to “be” a lawyer.
I decided that I needed to catch up to all these other young students whose parents, aunts, and uncles were lawyers. I needed to gain that confidence in myself, and I needed to be able to communicate more effectively. So, I signed up for many skills courses and writing courses. I needed “hands on” training to help me become the lawyer that I wanted to be and had envisioned my whole life.
First, I signed up for Advanced Appellate Advocacy. This course required students to write appellate briefs and arguments that were persuasive and articulate. Initially, I found this to be challenging. Even though I had three years of paralegal experience, I did not have any experience conducting such thorough research and preparing my own argument for a client’s position. This class taught me how to be more thorough when researching and to anticipate many potential positions of the opposing party. Additionally, I learned to organize my writing and how to piece together my arguments in a manner that did not confuse my audience. Taking Advance Appellate Advocacy paid off even before graduation. As a matter of fact, while in law school, I was hired by an amazing appellate attorney merely based on my appellate writing sample, so my experience and education from Advanced Appellate Advocacy translated into a great job with a great law firm.
Typically, I had avoided group work during my education because there are times that partners are not very reliable. However, after Advance Appellate Advocacy, I was invited to join Moot Court, which required that I work as a team. Moot Court forced me to rely heavily on my partners. Even though this was scary, it made me stronger. I now see that as a lawyer I must be able to work as a “team” with my co-workers and rely on them just the same. My Moot Court experience has made me a better teammate.
During Moot Court, my team competed in three competitions. Two of the competitions that my team participated in focused on family law and the best interest of the child analysis regarding child custody matters. Not only did I become familiar with the law, but I became familiar with the case law and how the courts view these factors in particular custody matters. Once I graduated law school I was hired by Jason B. Netzley of The Brave Law Center in Peoria, Illinois. Jason handles many custody, child support, and divorce cases. I believe that my experience with the best interest factors has not only surprised my supervising attorney but has given me the experience to aid me in communicating with my clients about their situations and how the court will view the facts of their case.
Additionally, Moot Court required me to present my client’s position to the judges and to answer their questions about my client’s position. So, in order to prepare for appellate arguments, we practiced answering potential questions based on our prior research. Not only did I learn to conduct thorough research, but I learned to anticipate the questions that my argument may inspire in my audience. This experience taught me to think on my feet. At first it was difficult to listen when being spoken to because I was incredibly nervous. There were times I could hear the voice of the judge but could not understand his or her words. By the end of the two years as a member on the Moot Court Board and countless hours of practicing, I learned how to present myself in court, how to dress properly, how to speak intelligibly, how to be respectful and show deference to the court, and how to listen while being nervous. This experience gave me the confidence to rely on my own knowledge of the topic and the case.
Also, our Moot Court Board hosted an intramural competition at SIU. Being able to sit in on the competition rounds to help with time keeping and to help the judges gave me a different insight into appellate advocacy. I was able to see from the judge’s perspective how our arguments sounded and what was persuasive and what was not. I was able to see how others dressed or handled questions that were thrown at them, and I was able to use their experiences to aid me in my future decisions about how I would act in court or prepare for a competition.
Now that I am out of school and working, I understand, now more than ever, that all those grueling hours of practice and hard work were well spent. I am now more comfortable in my own skin, in the courtroom, and in client meetings. I am a better advocate for my client because I can usually foresee the arguments of the other side and the weaknesses in my client’s position. I am a stronger advocate because I learned to advocate with my mind and not with my emotions, which is very, very helpful in family cases. The hands-on experience and training that I received at Southern Illinois University School of Law helped to make me into the zealous, skilled, and capable advocate that I have grown to be.