Monday, April 16, 2007

Our own Court of Appeals

Last week was the first ever hearing of the Baylor Court of Appeals.  Given the feedback from the lawyers and students involved, it won't be the last.  This court had the typical players flipped.  Instead of students arguing a mock case from a mock record with guest judges, the students were the ones in robes.   The advocates were two local lawyers, one of whom is scheduled to argue this case before an appeals court soon.  The other was a colleague who agreed to prepare the other side.  The idea was to provide a testing ground to the lawyers that would simulate an important audience at the court of appeals and to expose the students to a real-life appeal, filled with procedural complexities and an obnoxiously voluminous record.   

I drafted 6 students to handle the case.  They were divided into 3 teams of 2, each team comprising one judge and one clerk. I selected 6 students who very closely resembled (in terms of aptitude and experience) the first people who will read the briefs in the appellate court:  the clerks.  The lawyers provided each team with a binder that contained the appellate briefing, the trial-court order, the excerpts of the record, and a CD with the rest of the record.  Each team was instructed not to discuss the case with any other team, thus ensuring the panel would come to argument with different views of what is significant. I had an assistant who arranged for robes for the judges, videotaping, and other details.  The lawyers brought a court reporter, and we recorded the argument.   

The students dove in, and the results and educational experience were outstanding.   The students learned, not only how to sort through the procedural and factual complexities, but also about the importance of making a record in the trial court. Also, lights continued to go one regarding what truly is persuasive to a decision-maker, since now they saw things from the other side.  The lawyers raved about the preparation and insight.   I will not hesitate to do it again if the opportunity arises.  Of course the success depends upon talented and motivated students; but that's never lacking around here.   Please do share any thoughts about similar experiences or ideas to improve the process we followed. --RR

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