The moot court competition we've worked so hard to prepare for finally took place last week. It was the First Amendment Moot Court competition, and took place at Vanderbilt Law School and the First Amendment Center in Nashville.
We put in a lot of effort into the whole thing, and it was absolutely worth it. It may be one of the singularly most educational things I've ever done at law school. First we wrote a brief, and then after we sent it in we had about a month to work on our arguments. Although we briefed for the respondent we (as did everyone) had to argue both sides. Before the competition held six practice sessions, including four before a live bench, and continued to hone our arguments as we progressed through the competition.
The competition had us compete three times on the first day and once on the second day. Scores were then totaled and 8 teams (out of 39) continued on. Sadly we weren't one of those teams, although I suspect we were somewhat near the cusp. We generally felt we had done well, although admittedly not perfectly. I was more nervous for the first argument than I would have liked to have been, and the judges for our second argument seemed particularly tough nuts to crack. But the other arguments were strong and throughout we got some great compliments from the judges afterwards.
Both of us were commended for taking an unsympathetic government position and making it sympathetic (when we were arguing for the government, of course…). Mike was also commended for his excellent command of a very complicated case - I think he pretty much had every word of the majority, concurrence, and dissent, as well as any subsequent cases that referred to it, all queued up in his head.
My favorite compliment came from the entire panel of judges of one round who told me that I had a lot of "courage" (and "balls") for hanging in on a lot of tough questions. "You're a real fastball hitter," one said, which completely made my day. In truth I loved the questions. I much rather have a really tough panel than a quiet bench. It's in the silences when the nervousness sets in, but tough questions don't intimidate me - I love rising to the challenge.
Next week I think they'll send us our scores so we can get a better idea of where we may have come up short. My guess, having also watched the competitors from the finals, is that we may have been a little rough around the edges. Nothing too serious - had this been an actual appellate argument I think we would have done a perfectly fine job advocating for our client - but what the finalists had that we didn't necessarily was a certain polish and suaveness. The kind of calm, controlled, fluid presence I've been working on with my improv classes and the copyright and rhetoric class. I rarely had trouble knowing what needed to be said, or even how to spin it, but I wasn't always able to articulate it as smoothly as I know I'm ordinarily capable of when I'm feeling less nervous. It was like my brain would seize up a bit and the words wouldn't quite roll off my tongue so easily. Overall I think I'm vastly better at overcoming this than I was before law school, but it's something I want to keep working on.
Still, even though it's disappointing we didn't continue, it was a terrific experience. We both have a ton more confidence in our ability to do appellate advocacy, as well as a ton of experience that most people just don't have. I've now done 6 formal oral arguments (one from first year, one from last year, and then these four from last week), or 10 if I include the practice ones we did. I like it; I'd like to do it some more.