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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mock Trial is Your Life

My co-counsel hasn’t slept in five days and I haven’t showered in two. I glance around the room and conclude that no one has shaved in a week or more. My adversary glides toward the witness box, evidentiary rules tucked like a neat row of arrows in a quiver at his hip. I object. I strenuously object. But he is nonplussed. In a fluid motion, he draws Rule 801(c)(1)(d) from its sheath, the screaming arrow flies and my objection rattles in neatly split halves to the courtroom floor. Like that 1970s sitcom disc jockey whose reflexes only grew keener as he ingested more alcohol, my opponent’s precision is heightened when he is unencumbered by a need for sleep.

“From now until the second week in November,” our coach has announced with gravity, “mock trial is your life.” I quickly do the calculations in my head. If mock trial is to have my life, I must first barter it back from the splintered interests to which I’ve mortgaged it already.

It’s worth noting here that second-year law students lose a sizeable share of their sympathy stock. As demanding as the first year is, it’s all standard-issue stuff. Virtually every moment is accounted for, but every activity is required, mandatory, non-optional, de rigueur. There’s no way short of retreat to lessen your burden. After that, though, your wounds are largely self-inflicted, and the patience of those who once wished you well can begin to grow thin. But law-school resume builders appeal to that competitive streak that flares on some days and lies dormant on others and more or less defines us all. Perhaps you don’t need this thing or that, but you’re compelled to chase it nonetheless, for to do otherwise is to acknowledge limits, a thing law students are loath to do. We don’t like to lose, either, and that brings me back to the Intrastate Mock Trial Competition.           

I’ve tried out for the team with the partial aim of polishing my courtroom presence. Effective litigation is more than having good law and a modicum of truth on your side. It’s the casual gesture that is not casual at all. It’s the pregnant pause scripted to appear unscripted. It’s a process of animation, a thousand calibrated parts disguised as an extemporaneous whole. I watch my more-experienced teammates and I envy the controlled delivery of one and the dramatic choreography of another. If it isn’t Atticus Finch shooting arrows at the heart of your argument, it’s Jack McCoy indignant at this affront to justice. I lull myself into thinking that what looks easy in the hands of a master will be easy for me as well. Points marshal themselves into such seamless narratives in my head, and yet they are flawed in the execution. I deliver my opening statement and am reminded that I’m afflicted with nasal tonality and uneven breath. Curse these hollers and the dialectal havoc they wreak.

Weeks have passed since the eight of us received our mock-trial-is-your-life mandate, and there is no overstating the truth. Classes, clerkships, research, ancillary obligation and all manner of physical and emotional need have been little more than distractions pulling our attention from The Case. Even an early final exam and, for some of us, a first try at the Multistate Professional Responsibility Exam were only temporary sojourns from our new, all-too-real homes in imaginary Marshall City in the sovereign state of Marshall. We travel to Lexington for the competition this weekend, and I suppose we’ll find out who’s guilty and who’s not. Win or lose, I’ll post it to the asset column. If law school has taught me anything, it is that any argument asserted with authority is a potential winner, and that my capacity for shamelessness is greater than I ever imagined.