1L Dispatch: The Oral Fixation

Moot Court is now over, yet another obstacle of my first year of law school that I have sort of blindly skipped my way past. It’s a required class so I had no choice in the matter. Moot court has two aspects, a written brief and an oral argument. The Powers That Be grade it as pass/fail, which sends kind of a mixed message for a required course. On the one hand, this made me happy because it was one less thing to get really worked up over. But like those mysterious breeds of fish you hear about trolling the Mariannas Trench who implode when you remove them from their high-pressure habitat, I need a certain amount of stress to thrive. I think I would have done a much better job on both my written brief and oral argument if I was worried about getting a real grade. When the school says “It’s required, but we only give you a “P” or”F” what I hear is “You have to do it, but only with the bare minimum of effort to not look like a total slacker.” Granted, that has much to do with my own inclinations towards sloth, and with everything else I’ve had going on I won’t be complaining too loudly.

I have been working on a case that was actually argued before the real Supreme Court a couple weeks back. The case has two with some strict gun control laws in Washington D.C. and the Second Amendment. Gun control isn’t one of my pet issues, so I didn’t have strong convictions either way, but my first instinct is usually towards less government control, not more. At the same time, I can see the public safety need for regulation. I was randomly assigned to argue for the District of Columbia ( in favor of a de facto ban on pistols). Training future lawyers to have nimble minds and argue both sides of any issue, and all that. When the real deal went down at the big show, most commentators read the court as probably ruling against my side.

Writing the brief was not the most fun I’ve ever had, but I managed to get through the much-ballyhooed “10 Error Test” which requires the grader to stop reading and automatically bring the red pen hammer down on any brief with more than ten mistakes, be it missed comma or swollen margins. I had exactly ten errors, and so was able to narrowly skate by.

The oral argument was a bigger weight on my mind though. I was pretty sure I would earn my “P” with a good faith effort, and my competitive nature wasn’t kicking in to drive me toward victory. I couldn’t care less if I won the fake argument, but I still got nervous because I didn’t want to look like a total doof up there. It was an intense experience, in an actual court room with a trio of judges who wore actual robes. The simulation was enough to kick my (normally more active than most people’s) sweat glands into high gear and I was literally dripping from my forehead as I approached the podium. But once things got going and I answered the first judge’s questions with stuttering and sputtering and generally choking like a dog trying to swallow a dorito, it was actually fun. The time flew, which was nice because my greatest fear of the whole thing was silence or the sound of crickets chirping. I even pulled an Obama and spent the whole time my opponent was speaking writing down points for rebuttal. There were no big missteps. The only near mistake was when I almost called one of the judges “Coach” which is something I tend to do with male authority figures, probably owing to a youth of organized sports run by grown men in stretch-cotton shorts and whistles hanging from their necks.

I enjoyed myself up there way more than I imagined I would. Not enough to even consider signing up for a Moot Court team next year, mind you, but enough that I won’t just write the whole experience off as a semi-embarrassing waste of time.

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