OK, so I’ve been away for a while… but I have good reasons not for writing! I was preoccupied last month with the ABA’s National Appellate Advocacy Competition, which was a competition my partnerÂ and I started dealing with back on December 2nd and ended (for us) last weekend with absolutely fine results on March 4th, last Saturday. As part of the problem, we had to write a brief for the governor and elections commissioner of the fictional state of Calisota, and then in March we went to Washington to argue both sides of this state against other law schools.
I have to say we both hated writing the brief and we put its completion off until the last hours. I printed all the important cases and put them into a 4-inch binder, then lugged them around with me on my New York City trip before Christmas… you know, just in time for the transit strike. I didn’t read many then. Our brief had to be filed in the middle of January, and these awful cases weighed heavily on my mind. They had to be read before the writing could start, but who wants to plod full of hundreds of contradictory pages. (Of course, looking back on it, I like it. This always happens.)
So as I say, last month we went to Washington to compete. If we won all the rounds in D.C., we would have made it to Chicago to compete in April.
Our first round was against two students I dubbed John Edwards and Tape Recorder Girl. John Edwards looked and spoke exactly like the failed vice-presidential candidate (except this one confessed to being from Tennessee). He was impassioned but a little over-eager for my money. Tape Recorder Girl had perfectly scripted responses to judges’ questions, which drove me crazy. They beat us by only 1.777 points out of a possible 100. We were crushed and spent the entire next day moping around and blaming ourselves, wondering why we had gotten into this and considering throwing the rest of the competition. (Everyone was guaranteed to participate in three rounds, but your performance in those rounds qualified you for more.)
So the next day, as I say, we practiced and practiced for the second round, which was not until 6.15pm. I have never beaten myself up so much in my life, and for what? All day, my stomach was flooded with angst and a pervasive sense of foreboding. (Yes, I’m being a drama queen, but that’s how I felt.) Either we would fail again and be further humiliated, or we would succeed, and have to go on further in the competition and be humiliated there. Either way, it was a nice day in D.C. and I’d rather be doing something else!
The second round featured opponents we eventually decided reminded us of characters from Doogie Howser, M.D., particularly Vinnie. This guy could not keep his hands still, but he was so short the judges could not see them gyrating behind the podium. We were confident that we had him beat. Both of us felt very good about our performance. So you can imagine our shock to hear we had lost again, but this time by only 0.444 point out of 100.
At this point, we were ready to drown our sorrows in the comforting embrace of alcohol and fitful sleep. What could be done? We clearly were going home humiliated. Then I learned the other team from Capital lost their second round by 13 points, and the clouds parted a bit.Â :-)
The preparations for the third round were even more farcical. The rules of the competition provided only 16 slots for the fourth round, and your performance in rounds 1, 2, and 3 qualified you for round 4. Since our record was 0-2, we didn’t think we would qualify for round 4 and would therefore be permitted to escape our suits and ties and go outside to play. Unfortunately… Since we had lost rounds 1 and 2 by the tiniest of margins, we were ranked as the very best 0-2 team. And that meant we had to play the very worst 0-2 team in round 3. As I put it, the best of the worst had to play the worst of the worst (North Carolina State, and they actually were the nicest people at the competition!), which was the team that had lost by a cumulative 32 points. This was going to be a painful round, I thought. People who don’t like arcane math things can skip the rest of this paragraph.Â The problem with this whole setup was that if we beat our hapless opponents in round 3, our record would then be 1-2. So if some other 1-1 team lost its third round, it would also be ranked 1-2.Â And if our margin of victory was higher than theirs — and it would have to be, since we were going into this thing with a -2.222 score — we were going to leapfrog some other teams, qualify for the fourth round, and we would then face the strongest team at the competition.Â And of course, we were to face certain defeat, agony, and have to sit around in our suits for another four hours! Why wouldn’t the ABA just let us go have a nice lunch and forget about all this madness?!
And that’s exactly what happened. Round 3 was a real drubbing for the other side, even though I tried to help them as much as possible by stuttering, flubbing, and even waving my arms and saying (about the avoidance canon of statutory construction), “But that’s what we fought an entire Civil War over!” We won by some 13 points anyway and had to play Southern Methodist University in round 4, a team that was comprised of two judicial cyborgs whose smooth-tongued orations had been programmed by Daniel Webster himself. We lost (but only by four and a half points!) and were finally permitted to go home.
All in all, it was a fun experience, even though I probably spent two hundred hours reading cases, writing stuff, and practicing three times at week at the law school. Moot court is hard work. I wound up wondering why I was doing it, though… unless we were the absolute #1 team in the country, the road to victory was certain to end before I wanted it to. Of course, it’s fabulous experience to read, think, write, and talk, and I did get to sit on the bench of the Federal Circuit during a break, but my God, the strain it can put on a person is a lot to bear. I’m glad to have it over with, at least until the fall when we do it again!