Traffic Court experience drives home vital advocacy skills

My new tie felt like a noose tightening around my neck. The suit chafed against me. I couldn’t breathe. My hands shook. Cold nausea rolled over me. But there was no backing out now.

I shuffled my evidence, my notes, anything to keep busy, occasionally glancing to the podium, knowing I would be standing there any minute. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and took a breath. Just breathe. You’ve prepared. You’re a smart, first-year law student. You’ll get through this.

A booming and commanding voice suddenly filled the courtroom: “All rise!”

Standing, I tried my best to keep terror from spilling across my face as the three judges walked down the aisle, their robes flowing, their faces masked in authority. I glanced at my client, looked back at the judges taking their seats, and made eye contact with the chief justice. I breathed. It was time for Traffic Court.

The KU Court of Parking Appeals, informally known as Traffic Court, is an interweaving of the two most fundamental fields necessary for effective courtroom performance: trial advocacy and oral argument. The first portion of Traffic Court proceedings – the trial advocacy stage – involves direct and cross-examination, use of exhibits, and making timely objections. After questioning, proceedings move to closing argument, or the oral advocacy phase. There, 1L attorneys must use appellate-level skills to persuade judges to adopt their version of the events and the law.

Traffic Court attorneys who diligently train in both of these disciplines are not only rewarded with mastering the art of Traffic Court, but naturally prepare themselves for more advanced levels of trial advocacy and oral argument, such as Moot Court, Trial Advocacy, Advanced Litigation, and even actual courtrooms and appellate arguments.

The dust settled on my first Traffic Court appearance. I won the first case and lost the second. But I knew I was hooked. After my first appearance, I argued another 10 cases my 1L year and won the position of chief defense my 2L year.

Today, in my third and final year of law school, I am scanning through emails from the Parking Department, dean, 1L Traffic Court attorneys, and my board members. I am chief justice, and I love every second of it.

Jake Lowenthal is a third-year KU Law student and Traffic Court chief justice.