Select Page

Introduction

One of the first people I met in Law School was Colt Watkiss. Colt and I have talked at length about our undergraduate majors. We both felt that our majors would not serve us in our paths to becoming attorneys. Colt majored in theater, and I majored in marine biology conservation. One thing I learned through Career Services is that if you want to be a patent attorney, you must pass the patent bar. To sit for the patent bar, you have to have a sufficient amount of scientific undergraduate credits. While my major fulfills the scientific requirements to sit for the patent bar, it did nothing to prepare me for the required cadence of becoming an attorney. Had I majored in theater like Colt did, perhaps it would have been a more inherent skill. A lot of advocacy students usually find one lane and stick to it – at Pace, commonly referred to as either “mock kids” or “mooties.” Both require incredibly different demeanors and cadences. But they are two sides of the same coin. Both require acting and theater – one just requires you to play the more subdued role and the other the more dramatic. 

At this point, you may be wondering what exactly cadence is. The definition of cadence is “a modulation or inflection of the voice.”[1] Cadence was not a word I had heard until I took Trial Advocacy with Professor Jared Hatcliffe and competed on the Willem C. Vis International Moot Court with coaches Bryn Goodman and Linda Wayner, both in my spring semester of my second year. Frankly, my cadence was not great at the beginning of either. Bryn and Linda would tell me I was too flat, and Professor Hatcliffe would tell me I was too aggressive to a witness that did not warrant that much aggression. Not only was I in a situation that required two different cadences for two different types of skills – but I had to adjust both.

It was at that point that I was extremely jealous of Colt’s undergraduate background although I will admit, I teased him so many times for it. Acting is one of the most useful skills you can have if you are going to be a litigator, regardless of whether you are doing trial work, appellate work, arbitration, mediation, etc.

Moot Court Cadence

Everyone at Pace remembers their first experience with litigation – the Louis V. Fasulo 1L Moot Court Competition. For most of us, it was the first time we were orally arguing anything. Whether we liked it or not, we needed to represent our fictitious client to the best of our ability for the sake of our legal skills grade.

It is very important to listen to the advice of your Legal Skills Professors when preparing because how you perform in your 1L Moot Court Competition is your first impression on the advocacy program. Not only can you qualify to take Advanced Appellate Advocacy, but you never know who your judges may be. They could be your future moot court and mock trial coaches, bosses, professors, or coworkers.

Moot court is the competition version of what you would be doing as an appellate attorney. If you dream of arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States one day, then moot court will help you build that skillset. Cadence for moot court is arguably some of the most difficult to master. You have to be formal, yet conversational; show your personality, yet be deferential. This is the serious role in the film. Some of the most common pieces of feedback received in moot court competitions include “talk slower,” “don’t read,” “sound the way you do when answering questions,” “be more conversational.”

These pieces of feedback all go towards your cadence. When the judges are asking you questions, you are not reciting your words from a script. You are having a conversation with someone. Once you master deference and formality, the best way to master your moot court cadence is to really pay attention to how you are answering questions. Pay attention to the volume of your voice, pay attention to the tone of your voice, pay attention to how you modulate your voice (when you raise and lower your voice). If you can hone your question-answering cadence and translate it to your main argument, then you will be in phenomenal shape. Your best approach is to have an outline of your argument with bullet point notes. Yes, it is easier to recite from a script (especially in the day and age of zoom) but consider how unnatural that sounds. The way you write is far different from the way you speak. In a script you may say “as discussed above,” but when you speak you probably would say something like “as I already mentioned.” Additionally, if your cadence does not remain consistent from how you answer questions to how you transition back to your argument it will not be seamless. You will sound rehearsed, and inflexible.

International judges/arbitrators are an entirely different ballgame. You can probably get away with a bit more personality in a national competition. Remember, every country in the world has different customs and different things that they find acceptable. In national competitions you are taught that the epitome of deference to judge is to start all of your answers with “respectfully your honor,” if you are about to disagree with their question. If you do that in an international competition and you have Eastern European judges/arbitrators, they might find that offensive. You still want to modulate your tone, and sound conversational, however, it has to be a different kind of conversation. My coach Linda Wayner once told me that the best cadence to have for international judges/arbitrators is one where you sound like the sanest person in the room. Be persuasive, be confident, but do not be arrogant. Make sure you are giving the judges or the tribunal every bit of deference (if not more) than you would in a national competition.

Mock Trial Cadence

If you want to sing and dance and bounce around the stage with every ounce of emotion you have, then trial advocacy is for you. This where your personality needs to shine, however, here you must be flexible with your cadence. You have many different audiences in mock trial – the jury, the witnesses, and the judge. You will not be addressing the jury with the same cadence you use when addressing the judge – nor will you address any witness the same way you would the jury or judge. In fact, you will be addressing every witness different from the next. You would never cross examine a grieving mother the same way you would cross an investigating officer. You also never cross examine the same way you direct examine. Professor Hatcliffe tells all his trial advocacy students that “a direct examination is like a conversation between you and your two best friends, where your two best friends are the witness and the jury.” 

There are so many things that affect your cadence in mock trial: whether you are representing the prosecution, plaintiff, or defense; whether you are giving an opening or a closing statement; whether you are giving a direct or cross examination; or even the charges vs. causes of action. In the real world, you would negotiate a settlement or a plea deal before a trial is even on the table. This requires a lot of skill and compromise in and of itself! I have never competed in a negotiation competition – but one thing I learned from practicing attorneys is that you never want to make an enemy. You want to be friendly to witnesses, judges, and your opposing counsel, always. The nicer you are, and the better the reputation you build for yourself, the easier time you will have in the profession. Be the best version of yourself and always remain credible.

But back to mock trial competitions. In mock trial, you can be aggressive in a way that moot does not allow you to be, no matter which side you are on as long as you are directing your aggression appropriately. If you are the prosecutor on a murder trial, then of course that aggression can be directed towards the defendant on trial for allegedly murdering the victim. However, if you are defense, then your aggression needs to be directed to the government/your opposing counsel who wrongfully accused your client. You may accomplish that through objections and poking holes in their case.

But it’s important to remember that you don’t ever HAVE to be aggressive. If that is your personality and that is what comes naturally to you, then so be it. You can also be an extremely effective (and sometimes even better) litigator by remaining calm. There really is no standard tone that trial advocacy requires the same way moot court does. This is where you get to be you and show your style but don’t forget your common sense. The best piece of advice that Professor Hatcliffe ever gave me is to “always look good.” What he meant by that is always look good in front of the jury. So, think about that when you are trying to figure out how to master your trial cadence. Will the way you are speaking to the jury, the judge, or the witness make you look good?

Subjectivity

You will prepare. You will do everything your coaches tell you. You will master your cadence. But remember, as my coach Bryn Goodman once told my team; half of any competition is preparation, and the other half is luck. Judges/arbitrators have inherent prejudice towards the type of advocates and cadences they like and expect. An arbitrator from Germany will want you to sound very cool, very calm, and very collected. A judge from New York will likely expect a lot of personality and may tolerate a lot more aggression than a judge from Texas. People tend to gravitate towards what they are used to. So be weary of this and do not let it bring you down. Sometimes luck is just not on your side – but that has nothing to do with your performance as an advocate or a mastery of your cadence.

The key to advocacy is being persuasive. In order to be persuasive, you must come across as though you believe what you are saying 100%. But don’t forget to be yourself. If you are not being yourself, you will come across as disingenuous and it will be difficult to believe what you are saying. But as people, naturally we use different cadences throughout every aspect of our lives. Hone your real-life experience and cadence and apply it to your competitions. Just like any good actor believes the story they are telling, you, as an advocate, must do the same.


[1] Modulation, Oxford Languages, (2022).

Share this post: