Now, can I think of other ways I would like to spend my Sunday than having three consecutive hour-long practices of my moot court argument? Yes. Yes, I can.
Can I think of anything that has been more valuable to my legal education besides moot court? Barring internships and jobs where I have actually been working in the field (see Installment Two), no. No, I can’t.
Last semester, I had the pleasure and privilege of serving as the ASP leader for the Appellate Writing and Advocacy classes, which serve as the prerequisite for Marquette’s growing Moot Court program. As an icebreaker the first time I met the classes, I made reference to a presentation I am writing for 1L students who are interested in getting involved in Moot Court. It was entitled “WHY IN THE WORLD WOULD I WRITE A BRIEF IN MY SECOND YEAR OF LAW SCHOOL IF I DON’T HAVE TO?” The hilarity I anticipated did not ensue. I could see tiny thought bubbles popping up above the students’ heads. They read: “Ah, yeah. Wait. Why am I doing this?”
(1) Because advocacy is about to be your job. It doesn’t matter if you intend to work in litigation, if you want to do transactional work, alternative dispute resolution, or even tax. Your written and oral advocacy skills are what you will soon bring to the table as an attorney. Carpenters build things. Welders weld. Your job, at the risk of oversimplifying things, is to be elegantly pushy. And friends, that means that there is someone out there who will be employed to elegantly (or not-so-elegantly) push back at you. Now, many of us law types have been told from a young age, after engaging in unnecessary debate with our unsuspecting friends, parents, and significant others: “You’d make a good lawyer.” But engaging in oratory battle with the unarmed, or with people who don’t really care if you win because they just want you to be quiet, is quite different from what you’re about to do for a living. Soon there will be someone whose job it is to make sure you don’t get what you want and who will stand up in broad daylight and tell decision-makers why you are wrong. Is this discomforting? To me, yes. Deeply disconcerting, in fact. But taking Appellate Writing, participating in the Jenkins Competition, and now the National Appellate Advocacy Competition (which has gobbled up my Saturdays like so many Brussel Sprouts) has given me the chance to practice advocacy. And that has been invaluable to both my skills and my confidence.
(2) Because no one knows how to write an appellate brief yet. And no one knows how to do oral arguments yet. When you take Appellate Writing, you will be taught these skills. That’s why it’s a class. In my humble opinion, this is worlds better than trying your own hand at these new skills for the first time while you’re out in practice and someone’s actual life or money is riding on your performance.
(3) Because making oral arguments is scary, and it scares everyone. Because you hate public speaking and everyone hates public speaking. The judges can ask you anything. You might not have an answer. Your opponent might know things you don’t know, and you can bet he or she is going to point those out. But like anything worthwhile, making an oral argument is a learned skill. You should do yourself the favor of figuring out how to do it well before the rest of the world figures out you can’t. And when you stand up and are able to spar with Federal District Court judges and retired Wisconsin Supreme Court justices (as the participants in our Marquette Jenkins competition and the national competitions often do in their final rounds), you are going to feel really good about yourself. Because it’s cool.
A flashback to the moment I decided to go to law school: I used to work for a marvelous non-profit in Seattle that provided outreach and support services to Asian seniors. My agency approved the distribution of Medicaid benefits to our clients, and thus, when someone’s benefits were going to be reduced or cut off, they were entitled to a hearing. A hearing with me as the representative of the federal and state governments.
Me and my degree in Sociolinguistics. Representing the federal government. At a hearing. With a judge. And laws. I was, in short, not enthused about this prospect.
There, I got to know one of my favorite attorneys ever, a real spark plug of a woman who worked for the Department of Social and Health Services in Washington state. I was on the phone with her about one or two thousand times a day. She was decisive, articulate, worldly, funny, excellent at anticipating legal issues, a veritable administrative regulation encyclopedia, and an all-around rock star.
One day at a training for the various Washington state employees who coordinated hearings, this marvelous woman was going to give a presentation. Five minutes before it started, I felt a panicked hand on my elbow. I turned around and saw her panicked eyes. She said: “You have to come up there and stand with me.” I said: “What? Why?” Because she hated speaking in front of people. It made her want to run. I reminded her that she was a lawyer. This changed nothing. She was still horrified of speaking in front of people. I was amazed. And because lawyers could be horrified of public speaking, I became convinced I, too, could be a lawyer.
Through my work in Appellate Writing and in moot court, I am starting to think that I may not be a lawyer who hates speaking in public. Much.
(4) Because in your third year, Marquette might buy you a plane ticket and a hotel room. You pay some tuition, your books are expensive, you work hard. Learn this skill and polish it; then live it up some.