Law school competition teams: Practicing for practice
Traditional law school courses can be an effective way to learn legal doctrine, but they don’t teach much about law practice. Joining a law school competition team can be a terrific way to learn those skills and have fun in the process.
There are many good reasons to join competition teams. The first is the opportunity to learn law-practice skills not taught in traditional law school courses. Many of these skills are essential to a successful law practice – skills such as how to conduct a client interview, how to write an appellate brief, how to cross-examine a witness, and how to draft and deliver an effective opening and closing statement. Competition teams give students an opportunity to learn-by-doing in an environment where a mistake is not going to hurt a client or lead to a legal malpractice claim.
Second, competitions provide immediate feedback. In most law school classes, feedback comes in the form of a grade at the end of the semester, and by the time the grade arrives, it’s too late to improve performance in the course. In competitions, participants usually receive feedback after each round, and can use that feedback to perform better in the next round.
Third, competing fosters teamwork. A recent study of practicing attorneys ranked “working cooperatively with others as part of a team” among the top ten most important lawyering skills. Law school, however, can feel like a solitary journey. Competition teams give law students the opportunity to learn and work together.
Fourth, teams provide potent networking opportunities. Students on a team often form close personal and professional bonds that continue for a lifetime. Participating on a team also provides an opportunity to meet successful practicing attorneys. Students often receive interviews and job offers as a result of contacts they made with practitioners who coached their team, judged practice rounds, or judged competition rounds. Practitioners recruited by schools to serve as coaches and judges usually are among the cream of the practicing bar, and the opportunity to shine in front of them, in a law-practice setting, is invaluable.
Fifth, competing looks good on a resume, provides a discussion item in job interviews, and provides coaches with concrete items they can use in writing letters of recommendation. Many students complain that legal employers focus too much on grades, but that’s because there often are few other job-related factors that meaningfully distinguish one law student from another. Competition teams give students with mediocre grades a different opportunity to shine, and give students with stellar grades an opportunity to demonstrate that their skills go beyond the ability to excel on a timed doctrinal exam.
Finally, competing provides an opportunity to travel, to meet law students from across the country and around the world, and to observe advocacy techniques that might be different from the ones taught at your school.
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