Why I Competed in the Stone Moot Court Competition and You Should Too

I know that the third year is supposed to be the easy year, the victory lap forged through the fire of two years of hard work, overwhelming stress, and mind-numbing reading.  For the most part, I have treated my third year as us third years should: going on fun weekend trips around the east coast, drinking more and reading less, and taking a less rigorous class load than in semesters past.  This desire for some freedom and relaxation is what made my decision to do Stone Moot Court all the more difficult.  I knew the amount of work Stone would require.  I would have to do the research and the writing for a 20-page brief entirely from scratch, then come up with oral arguments and rebuttals to the other side’s arguments, all in front of nit-picky judges.  It would take at least a weekend, probably more, and would induce the kind of stress 3Ls are supposed to avoid at all costs.  Despite these concerns, I signed up and completed Stone Moot Court. And I think you should, too.

Courtesy of Columbia Law School Communications and Public Affairs
Stone Moot Court Competition 2013
Courtesy of Columbia Law School Communications and Public Affairs

One of the things that appealed to me the most about Stone was the opportunity to gain practical experience while at law school.  One of the most common complaints about law school today, both from the perspective of current lawyers and students, is the lack of preparation to do actual legal work upon graduation.  Law school does a great job at training us in how to think like lawyers and how to debate higher-level academic principles, but rarely do we get the opportunity to put our knowledge to practical use, as we will be required to do upon graduation.  Clinics and externships are both great avenues for practical legal experiences, but outside our first-year Legal Writing Workshop class (which is graded pass/fail and thus relegated to “do enough not to fail” status by most 1Ls), there is little practical experience to be gained through the law school itself.  This is what makes Stone all the more valuable. It provides the opportunity to craft your own argument as part of a brief, which is then reviewed by actual judges who treat law students as they would practicing attorneys. That, and the fact that the first round issue was very accessible this year (it involved standing and federalism issues, as opposed to more intellectually challenging issues last year) was enough to convince me to sign up.

There were times I regretted my decision, especially the last weekend before the brief was due.  While my partner and I did not procrastinate terribly, it was still a stressful experience to knit our separate argument sections together into a final brief.  We had no idea what the structure of a brief was supposed to look like, so outside of attempting to base it on some samples seen on Westlaw, we were learning as we went. But that was the beauty of Stone, it provided us as a chance to take a crack at legal work and learn from our mistakes before we were in the real world.  By giving real legal writing a first try now (or even a second, for those who had specialized moot courts first year) I feel infinitely more prepared to be a practicing attorney.

Stone Moot Court Finals 2012 -- Courtesy of Columbia Law School Communications and Public Affairs
Stone Moot Court Finals 2012
Courtesy of Columbia Law School Communications and Public Affairs

When it was time to give my oral argument, I must admit, I was nervous.  During 1L my judges never showed up to hear my oral argument, so I just presented in front of my 2L helpers, instead.  So, while I had technically mooted before, I had never done so in front of actual judges.  The day before I was up, I went over my argument, practiced saying it a couple of times, and built up my confidence.  However, thirty seconds into my presentation I had to throw my carefully rehearsed speech out the window, as I was subject to a barrage of questions by the judges.  That first night the judges controlled the pace, and I was just along for the ride.  I realized after that night that being prepared wasn’t about knowing a speech, but knowing the material and your argument well enough to answer the judges’ questions competently and strategically, in a way that both satisfies them and advances your own argument.  My second night, I was much less nervous and much better prepared, and it showed.  I knew to focus on my most crucial arguments and was able to anticipate judges’ questions.  I knew how the questions and argument would evolve, and how to best respond.

I learned from my Stone experience that my table of authorities should be in alphabetical order, that little formatting tweaks in the opening sections of a brief can have an impact on the judges’ opinions of later argument sections, that I should not be afraid to (respectfully) disagree with judges, and that I must remember to integrate public policy and facts into legal argument.  Unlike law school, mooting is practical and real, involving “real” facts and “real” people.  Regardless of whether I advance, I truly feel glad that I chose to participate, and believe everyone should take advantage of Stone, an opportunity to have a dress rehearsal on mooting and gain a tiny peek into what it’s like to be a lawyer before we are all thrown into the real working world.

Max Hirsch is a 3L from Los Angeles, California. He is an enthusiastic orator, aspiring litigator, and dedicated Morningside Muckraker staff writer. 

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