Let’s talk about the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition for a moment. A chance to practice appellate advocacy–what better an experience for a future lawyer of America than to dress up in a suit and argue about something he or she doesn’t actually care about! This is (really) one of a lawyer’s core responsibilities.

But let’s focus on the numbers, shall we? Of the sixteen students assigned the role of “appellant” on Issue Two, only one student made it to the finals, and that student had the lowest scores of all of the Issue Two competitors to advance. The qualifying round rankings presented seven appellees followed by one appellant at the very bottom.[1]

These numbers are strange, and suggest (though do nothing to confirm) that the judges may have been biased by the strength of the law supporting students’ positions, rather than their objective advocacy strength. We all know that legal writing and oral advocacy yield conflicting advice and feedback, especially when judges hail from all corners of the legal sphere. See, e.g., LPW. Nevertheless, here are some ways the Harlan Fiske Stone Competition could be made more likely to comport with my internal compass of fundamental fairness:

1. Make everyone argue both sides of the same issue. Even field on the law. There is something to be said for writing on both sides of an issue to firm up one’s own position. How could any gunning or major-writing-credit-writing law student say no to an opportunity to become an even more magical brief writer? This also sounds like a great party trick to pull out post-graduation at a 3 a.m. brief crafting session between gulps of Rockstar energy drink and “who is this sad person?” mirror stares.

2. More specific guidance on the style of the briefs, which is then reflected on the scoring sheet. Spoon feeding, you say? Consider that in the coming years, we often will be asked to have a brief meet the specifications of an overly-specific supervisor.

3. Randomly assign everyone to a partner. I was one of the few to have a randomly assigned partner.  Although we shared a neighborhood of origin, a high school swim team, an undergraduate alma mater, and 45 mutual facebook friends, we had never spoken to each other, perhaps because I was downright scared of him. Nevertheless, I am so glad I was forced into this partnership because he was a great and supportive colleague to me and he is the coooolest. Hopefully this happens in law practice as well, because it would be strange for a supervisor to ask you to partner up with your best friend in the office on your next appellate brief on bankruptcy. And when it’s over, you will have one more person to say hi to at the office!

4. There’s one final way: Let the losers keep learning. We could refuse to be complacent with the idea that the practice of law is cold, hard, soulless. We could use our brainy, argue-y powers for good, rather than letting them get tightly, tightly, tightly wrapped around the bonus scale, how we stack up to each other, our numbers of billables, or conviction rates. We could allow our imaginative, detail-oriented, relentlessly obsessive, genius-y minds to join together to form a Megazord of legal expression. We could let ourselves experience a community where when four of us are riddled with panic attacks induced by the mere thought of Justice Kagan making direct eye contact and a disappointed face, the rest of us could be dang proud, help the finalists practice, show them that we are filled with love rather than jealousy, and feel like we have all achieved something when one is crowned Ultimate Grand Supreme Queen or King of CLS advocacy town.


[1] Allow me to disclose my conflict of interest: I was assigned to the appellant’s side on Issue Two, A.K.A. team Losin’ USA. Lest you think I am just a sore loser, I will also admit that I came in third to last for Issue Two and am ready, mom-be-damned, to acknowledge that even if this competition were fair as can be, I would still have gotten a disappointing e-mail at some point in the process.

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