Wednesday, April 18, 2018
Often, I find myself in a conversation about the validity of Moot Court programs in law school. This discussion is perpetual. Indeed, while I was in law school, a pair of articles were published discussing this issue. One clearly opposed, and in support, of the moot court experience. See Alex Kozinski, In Praise of Moot Court--Not! , 97 Colum. L. Rev. 178 (1997); Michael V. Hernandez, In Defense of Moot Court: A Response to "In Praise of Moot Court--Not!", 17 Rev. Litig. 69 (1998). Those that know me, understand that I am a big fan of moot court, even if you have no intention to enter appellate practice. Over the next few weeks, I will address my views on the moot court experience.
In this post, I address how the moot court experience enhances a student's writing skills.
During the first year of a student's law school experience, we take mostly good, or even excellent writers, and change how they perceive the writing process. In some instances, we find students who need real work on basic writing skills, but for most, it is just a matter of getting them to buy into a new approach. No longer are students using filler to reach some magical minimum word count, no longer are we rewarding free-flowing prose. Students must constrain their writing to maximum word counts, and to seemingly arbitrary formulas. My students complain about CREAC, CRAC, IRAC, or CRuPAC, or whatever the acronym of the day is, at least until they have embraced it. I liken good legal writing to an instruction manual that must be written in a manner that frees the reader to focus on the analysis. Certainly, by the end of the first-year students are capable of writing good briefs. They reach legal conclusions that are sound and built upon a strong, rule-based foundations. Such writing is good, and if a student were to enter the legal community immediately after their first year, their writing would be sufficient.
But, sufficiency is not enough. As a practicing attorney, I never had the better part of a semester to write a brief. I've written multiple briefs and pleadings in a single week. If my writing was only sufficient, I would have struggled to put together coherent briefs and pleadings at that pace. So I push my students to excellence, and they way to do that is through practice. The more one writes, the easier it is.
Many law schools with strong moot court programs have a class dedicated to appellate advocacy or brief writing. These classes take the skills a student learns in their first year and builds on those skills. Students learn when and how to step away from the basic CREAC formula. They learn how to write many different types of arguments. They gain extra practice.
Once a student is in competition, the student develops skills that can only come from practicing their skills with no input. Students gain confidence when they realize that they can write a brief, with difficult legal or factual issues, without getting constant reassurance or guidance from their professors. Students learn the importance of crafting an error free document, and from taking the time to review and edit the document. When they begin preparing for oral argument they will learn the value of listening to the inner voice that tells you an issue either is or isn't worth mentioning in the brief. When they compete a second or third time, that skill will be utilized to create an even better written product.
In short, moot court gives students multiple opportunities to develop and perfect the practice-ready writing skills a student gains in their first year, and which every practice attorney needs.