Growing through discomfort

Public speaking and litigation for the shy

Doug Bartel, 3L

As my third and final year in law school comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on the growth I have had – professionally and personally – since starting my KU Law journey. Although some people perceive me as extroverted, I am naturally, and painfully, introverted. If the thought of grabbing a microphone and speaking to a large room also makes you queasy, you might have written off a career in litigation as impractical. Like anything else in life, however, you can develop and nurture the skills you need to build your confidence when publicly speaking and presenting.

I knew when I came to law school that I wanted to be a family-based immigration attorney – a career that is litigation heavy – so public speaking is something I knew I needed to practice and perfect. While, unfortunately, I have not found a “magic pill” or “secret recipe” for overcoming one’s fear of public speaking, I detail below two experiences I had while at KU Law that helped immensely.

1. Moot Court

As part of my Federal Indian Law course with Professor Watts, we wrote briefs and gave oral arguments. After my first oral argument, Professor Watts asked me to participate in the NNALSA (National Native American Law Students Association) moot court competition. Despite my initial kneejerk reaction – “Absolutely not!” – I accepted. I worked for several months preparing with my partner, a process that required us to regularly give oral arguments to our professors and legal practitioners from around the country. During our final round in the competition, over three hundred people were watching us. Yikes! In this experience, I learned that preparation and practice are the keys to overcoming your nerves. Our hard work paid off, and we took home the national prize for KU Law.

2. Internship at the Johnson County DA’s Office

After your second year in law school, students can be eligible for a provisional license to work for a public interest or government employer. I spent my second year working for the Johnson County DA’s Office where I had a caseload of roughly sixty cases, which were a mix of traffic and misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. This experience was a veritable baptism by fire. After a brief training, you begin covering your own pleas, bench trials, and jury trials. While this level of public presentation took several months for me to acclimate to, the experiences I had were invaluable and affirming. I graduate as one of the few people in my class with this level of practical courtroom experience.

While these are the activities that I feel helped me while at KU Law, this list is not exhaustive. KU Law offers many opportunities that will strengthen your confidence in your public speaking abilities. Above all, I hope this post has reassured you that, with intentional planning, a litigation career is possible for everyone.

– Doug Bartel is a 3L KU Law Student Ambassador from Olathe, Kansas