I don't close with and destroy the enemy physically anymore. Now it is mental combat. Here is a description I wrote for my school paper of a moot court competition I was in a few months ago. Moot court is an appearance before a panel of judges where you discuss a fake case. The case presents a really intricate question of law that can be decided either way depending on how you present it - there is no right or wrong answer. The judges throw questions at you and try to rattle you. They usually succeed. Your reasoning ability and presentation is graded, and winners are announced. It is pretty prestigious at law school, especially if you want to be a trial lawyer like me. My school name and the names of my team-members are changed to protect the innocent.
This year, for the first time in 18 years, "X" School of Law (a top-20 law school in Southern California) fielded a team in the Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition, widely recognized as the largest and most prestigious moot court competition in the world. I was on this year’s team, along with my fellow team-members A, B, and C. This year’s problem was a dispute between two fictitious countries before the International Court of Justice in the Hague involving war crimes and the new International Criminal Court. We had to research the problem and prepare a brief for each side. We started work in earnest in October, and submitted two 36-page briefs in January. We then began preparing for the oral rounds.
We flew to Lubbock TX and the campus of Texas Tech University to represent X Law school before the best and brightest other schools had to offer. Let the Brain Olympics begin!
When we got off the small airplane we were overwhelmed with the smell of cow… manure is a good word, I’ll use that. Lubbock is a small town with a very different culture from LA. Flat. I mean somebody ironed it flat. Anti-smoking ads informed us that 70% of Texas Tech students use tobacco products. 70%?!? The law school lounge proudly displayed posters advocating for both political parties – Republicans and the Federalist Society. On the TV in the airport Sen. Kerry was talking, and a man said loudly “Scary Kerry.” The crowd nodded approvingly at the brilliant political commentary. That pretty much summed it up – it was George W. country all the way. But, even though we were heathens from liberal Los Angeles everybody was very nice. I hope that anybody from Lubbock who visits LA gets half as nice a welcome as they gave to us.
Texas Tech ran the competition as smoothly as any competition could be run. The assistant dean, a man named Richard Rosen, picked us up and personally drove us to our hotel. It turns out he had just retired from the JAG corps of the US Army, where he was the Commandant of the Army’s JAG school. Those who know me understand how I quickly made a friend for life. We knew many of the same people and talked Army while A, B, and C rolled their eyes in boredom. It also turns out the Dean of Texas Tech retired after serving as the Judge Advocate General of the US Army. Together they procured judges well versed in international law for the competition – 2 former deans of the JAG school, a former staff judge advocate for special operations command and from the 4th Infantry Division, and many other noted international law practitioners and scholars.
The competition itself was intense. Teams were from Stanford, UCLA, UNLV, Arizona State University, Kansas University, Oklahoma City University, Southern Methodist University, Southwestern, University of Arizona, University of New Mexico, University of Oklahoma, and the University of San Diego. San Diego casually mentioned that they had been practicing four times a week for three hours at a time. Oh man. Most schools had their faculty coaches travel with them. Ours didn’t travel with us… uhh, we didn’t have one. Some of the students were in a class called Jessup. It’s a class? Wow. All of the competitors were well-prepared and well-supported. We were on our own, and did the best we could, but were disheartened to learn that one of our briefs was docked 5 points on a technicality (no “questions presented” section). Ouch. A faculty coach really would have helped. Well, it is our first time and we did the best we could.
The other teams spent the night before the first round feverishly reviewing their notes. We, of course, went to the hotel bar – called the “Recovery Room” because it was down the street from a hospital. Very tacky place – just right for us. C bought the first round – four 22-oz “Shinerbock” beers. Shinerbock is actually pretty decent, by the way. If you are ever in TX, don’t tell them you are a liberal, and order a Shinerbock. You’ll be alright. Anyway, C ordered the beer and then turned to us in amazement and said “Seven dollars.” Now, I admit that LA is pretty expensive, but $7 for a beer is too much even here. To be charged $7 a draft beer in Lubbock? No damn way. I’ll take my money and – “No” said C. “It’s $7 for all four beers.” Wow again. Lubbock suddenly was a lot more interesting. We studied late into the night, and A created the “ICC” rap. Don’t ask. And especially don’t ask her – she’ll recite it for you. Again and again and again. The only other “Jessup” people there were from the University of Kansas. They seemed as relaxed as us. We were pretty relaxed because we knew we would be the best team X Law School had entered in 18 years, even with the 5-point penalty. See the first line of this article if you think I sound arrogant.
The next day we had one round – and it was tough. 45 minutes a side, with 3 well-prepared judges. C went first. He didn’t receive a single question! I sat and watched him continue on, and on, and began to sweat. For those of you who have done moot court, you know that questions are where you shine – you know what the judge thinks is important, and can score points, as well as you avoid the problem most people face in talking that long without questions. It’s tough. C was smooth, professional, and calm. I was freaking out because I knew I could not do that – go before a panel and just talk for 20 minutes without interruption. He did, and he did it well. He sat down and I stood up. About 2 minutes into my section a judge asked a question, and whew, we were in the game. Question-response followed by question. It was great. I am so glad I didn’t go first.
Done for the day, we continued our study at the Recovery Room. $7! And watching a white Texan who called himself “Compton” perform a rap for the crowd was pretty amusing. A repeated her “ICC Rap.” Ugghh. Please please please stop. She, of course, continued. One "cowboy" asked us where we were from. When he heard we were from LA he said "You ain't one of them liberals are you?" I told him I was, always had been, always would be. He glared at me and started mouthing off about wuss this and commie that and I started to get up. I was going to convince him that liberal didn't mean weak, as well as teach him some neat stuff I learned in a Combatives class I took 3 times a week the year I was stationed in the infantry on the South Korean DMZ (I love to teach - I'm so selfless). His friends pulled him out and apologized for him. One said "that isn't how we greet visitors around here." Wow. Lubbock is conservative W country, but I was favorably impressed. Shinerbock made it all ok.
The next day we had three rounds, and again it was hellish – all the judges were smart, well-prepared, understood the problem, knew the facts, and asked really F-ing hard questions. A and B were asked about 50 questions in their second round. At one point B was just starting to answer one question when he was interrupted with another question from a 2nd judge, and while that judge was asking that question the 3rd judge interrupted the 2nd judge with another question, and both of them asked different questions at the same time. All three judges then went silent and waited for him to answer. Damn. He did great though, and answered all three. It’s all about controlling your presentation, and he did – he would answer and in his answer lead the discussion right back to where he wanted to go. He even stopped shaking nervously after the first few minutes. (Don’t laugh unless you’ve done moot court – it IS scary).
That night the four finalists were announced – and we weren’t one of them. Well, we didn’t expect to be. We had no faculty coach, no history of competing, and the other teams were freakishly well-prepared. We consoled ourselves with the fact that we didn’t think we had embarrassed X Law School, and that we did better than last year’s team (see the first line again).
We debated whether to go to the movies or to the awards presentation that night, and finally decided it would seem rude not to attend, especially given the incredible hospitality shown by our Texas Tech hosts. So we went. Are we glad we did. Our team won 2nd and 3rd place Best Oral Advocate trophies (I was ALMOST first), and B missed a 5th place trophy by only a few points - he was 6th but no trophy for that . We had 3 in the top six! We missed being one of the final four by – you guessed it – five points. 5 no ‘questions presented’ section” penalty points. If we didn’t have the penalty we would have been in the semi-finals, and given that we were the only team with two people to win awards in the oral competition (and 3 of the top six places) we could have made it to the international round. Well, I don’t care. We made our school look good, and we set the standard for next year’s team – all they have to do is win the whole thing or drop out of school in shame. No pressure. Just victory or death. My new friend Dean Rosen of Texas Tech, US Army retired, would appreciate that language.
That night we – well, you know what we did. $7 for four beers, how could we not. A mentioned that one reason C did so well was rehearsal – she heard him rehearsing his argument while he was in the shower in the hotel. C was embarrassed, and we laughed our butts off. And we met the team from San Diego – they were awesome, and not just because they bought us drinks and told us how great X Law School is and how they wanted to go there but didn't get in, but because they were really nice people too. It rained, and we got mud all over us. I know why they say “don’t mess with Texas.” It is because you don’t want to get Texas on you – it is hard to wash out. The next day we spent 8 hours doing absolutely nothing and flew home. We were glad to see Kansas win the regional and move on to the international round – Shinerbock helps you think. I hope they win the whole thing.