There are some attorneys and judges who say that oral argument doesn’t matter. Today I have proof that it does.
On May 10, 2017, I argued the case of Erie Insurance v. Bristol before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. When I filed the petition asking the Court to take the case, the court rephrased the issue (the legal argument we wanted the Court to decide) in a very broad and somewhat unusual manner that changed the focus of the case. When we filed our Brief, we addressed the issue framed by the Supreme Court but also outlined why the argument that we had originally asserted was still relevant. This required filing a nuanced brief that responded to the Court’s concerns while also advocating for our client in the manner we believed to be most effective.
At oral argument, the Court questioned me at length (nearly 25 minutes) about whether the Brief we filed had addressed the issue as rephrased by the Court. While we believed that the Court could decide the case based on the rephrased issue, the argument focused primarily on whether the Court should have ruled based on the question we originally presented. Fortunately, I was prepared (and spent two days preparing for the argument) and was able to address the Court’s concerns.
Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court – in a highly unusual action – issued an Order agreeing to decide the issue as we had originally framed it (6 Justices joined in the Order, 1 dissented). I do not believe that the Court would have issued this Order today without the benefit of oral argument.