Wednesday, February 29, 2012
Here’s a thoughtful post from guest blogger Ruth Anne Robbins, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Lawyering, Rutgers Law School—Camden.
It is moot court season. Law students looking quite purposeful in their conservative suiting as they tell you that they will have to leave class early today or that they will be missing a class or two next week. It’s the season when all law schools and practitioners involved with these competitions might tell ourselves that we can use them to help reform legal education.
The existing paradigm of moot court competition has been in place for several decades. Teams of students prepare briefs and practice oral arguments about some of the nattier legal issues facing experts in a particular field of law. There’s a minimal record involved, and the standard of review is usually de novo. The competitions prioritize pure legal analysis and the technical skill of advocacy at the high federal levels. Although faculty coaches can provide feedback during the oral argument practices, the students write their briefs without the individualized feedback that students received in their legal writing courses.
If we want to teach our students essential skills that they will need and use early in their legal careers, organizers of moot court competitions need to reassess their pedagogical goals..
When we talk about modifying the law school curriculum to better help our students become “practice-ready,” we are actually talking about helping students become client-ready. Clients need lawyers to muck around in facts, to problem-solve, and generally to exercise judgment as well as technical skills. To get there, we need to create more lawyering moments for our students: a combination of legal analysis, factual analysis, skills, and client-centeredness. Clinicians are experts at creating these moments. It makes sense to make these moot court programs more clinical.
What does a client-centered moot court program look like? It looks like a program that:
1. Bridges legal writing and clinical education.
2. Focuses on persuasive advocacy on behalf of a lifelike client.
3. Teaches students to understand and then tell the client’s story in order to advocate for an outcome that is acceptable to the client.
4. Asks the student to grapple with much more common mixed standards of review.
5. Permits a professor to give individualized feedback on the brief as well as the oral argument.
In other words, make the moot court competition worthy of being a part of modern legal education.