How do professional baseball players get to be the best that they can be? Answer: by pursuing the PPP Rule. How do professional tennis players get to be the best that they can be? Answer: by pursuing the PPP Rule. How do fighter jet pilots get to be the best that they can be? Answer: by pursuing the PPP Rule. How do attorneys get to be the best that they can be? Answer: by pursuing the PPP Rule.
You may be asking yourself or speculating as to what the PPP Rule could possibly be, and you may be curiously contemplating what a baseball player, a tennis player, a fighter jet pilot, and an attorney could possibly have in common that would ultimately conjoin them with such a rule as the PPP Rule. The answer to this potentially perplexing riddle is actually quite simple. Before baseball players can consider themselves to be the best they can possibly be, they will have spent countless hours honing and perfecting their skills both on and off the baseball field. Similarly, in order for tennis players to attain that same degree of success, they will have spent countless hours of repeated activity both on and off the tennis court. Fighter jet pilots wouldn’t consider themselves to have attained the pinnacle of flight skills without having spent innumerable hours inside a classroom, in a flight simulator, and in an actual fighter jet, repeating the complex maneuvers required of an elite master of the skies. And attorneys wouldn’t consider themselves to have achieved professional superiority without having first repeated those skills needed to enable them to face the expected and the unexpected confrontations to which they will be constantly exposed both inside and outside a courtroom.
By this time, you likely have reached the correct conclusion as to the commonality each of the above persons shares in the pursuit of ultimate achievement. The PPP Rule is, of course, Practice, Practice, Practice. Without pursuing the dictates of this rule, none of the above persons would be able to claim that they have become the best that they can be.
The Journey of the Student
A student of the law, whether it be on the high school level, the college level, or the professional school level, enters a new world that, at first, certainly appears to be complex, confusing, and filled with conflicting and contradicting substantive and procedural principles and rules. At the outset of the journey to competency, and in the hope of attaining excellence, the student of the law must first seek to attain a comfort level with the basics to be confronted and then gradually seek to achieve mastery over those basics. It is only once this mastery of the basics is attained that one can then attempt to advance to the next level of competency. It is similar to learning how to fly an airplane. One must first master the basics of flight before advancing to the skills needed to effectively and capably control a supersonic jet fighter.
Where do you begin the long journey to excellence? How do you achieve the level of success that you desire? The answer is found in the statement that proclaims that “Every journey begins with but one small step.” In the area of law, that small (yet formidable) step begins with a tedious and detailed study of the principles and rules that comprise the law. One must master these principles and rules before being able to use them effectively. Studying the law at the high school and college levels requires an introduction to what the law is, an overview of some of the basic rules of law, and an examination of how the law is implemented to achieve its intended purpose. This exposure to the law can also be supplemented by an introduction to the practical application of the law by an initial demonstration of the skills utilized in presenting issues to the court, whether that be before a trial court or an appellate court. This can be accomplished by the use of mock trial procedures, albeit on a basic and introductory level; the result to be achieved here is perhaps more that of developing, in the student, an interest in the law rather than a proficiency in it.
The student may need a stimulant to develop an interest in the law, a stimulant that can be introduced by those who have already developed that interest. It is in this regard that we, as established attorneys, have an opportunity to give back to society something of significant value. We can become coaches for these students and introduce them to the experience of mock trial activities. Doing so will be instructive and productive for them and will provide them with an introduction to the real world of courtroom practice. Alternatively, we can serve as judges for student competitions or activities during which constructive suggestions and recommendations can be provided to the students to assist them in improving their performance and/or becoming more comfortable in their involvement with the law.
It is in the doing that one becomes proficient; theoretical knowledge of the law alone is often not enough. When a student develops an interest in the law to the extent that he or she is driven to secure a seat in a law school, it is not enough that the student acquire a deep and detailed knowledge of the principles of law. The student must also acquire a knowledge of how the law works in practice. In this regard, it has often been said that when the student graduates from law school after long and labored years of study, that student may well know the rules of law but does not know what to do with them. In other words, book law does not necessarily equate with real law. To become proficient in the law, the student must also acquire the skills needed to effectively apply the law. Yet, often, the student is exclusively preoccupied with learning the rules of law and is less concerned with learning the skill of applying the law. It is only after graduation from law school and successfully defeating the challenge of a bar exam that the newly ordained attorney realizes that a precious opportunity has been overlooked or missed. This opportunity is found in being a member of the law school law review and participating in moot court experiences. As a participant in moot court activities and competitions, the law student will be provided with an opportunity not only to apply the principles of law that he or she has learned in the classroom to specific fact patterns involved in a dispute; the student will also be able to learn the skills needed to effectively present a dispute to a court for determination. If conducted properly, the student will be exposed to the rigors of the interaction between judge and counsel, will be taught how to effectively “think on his or her feet,” will be encouraged to develop and present cogent, well-organized arguments in support of his or her position, and will have an opportunity to develop courtroom skills and demeanor that will lead to a successful career in the law. The student is on his or her way to becoming a competent advocate.
As important as it is for the student to learn and develop the skills that will be needed in pursuit of the journey to becoming an effective and successful advocate, that journey requires the guidance and oversight of professionals who have already learned their lessons and who have experienced the intricacies of the legal fray. It is up to us, as seasoned attorneys, to provide the guidance that these students will require during their development, and while it is recognized that we exist in a confrontational and many times combative forum, we still owe an obligation to society to provide and develop competent colleagues whose obligation it is and will be to protect, preserve, and pursue the rights of the members of that society in the future. This obligation can be well served by our participation in moot court activities. Whether we serve as coach, mentor, judge, or otherwise in connection with moot court, we can and should provide assistance to the students in their journey down the path to the future. That should be our commitment; that will be our legacy.
The Legal Profession
As lawyers, we have been taught and constantly reminded that preparation is the key to success. There is no substitute for it. The initial stage of this preparation can be found in the training we received in law school. This training continues during our subsequent years of practice. As our careers in the law progress, we have the opportunity to achieve success as measured by professional growth, professional achievement, financial success, and professional and personal satisfaction. We also, however, have a commensurate obligation to give back something of value to the profession and the community that has given us our life. One gift that we can give is the gift of helping those who follow us to successfully prepare for their future in rendering legal services to their communities. This can be accomplished by pursuing a career as a professional educator or a law librarian, by being a mentor or advisor, or by serving as a judge or coach in moot court activities.
Involvement in moot court activities provides the legal profession with an opportunity to educate those who will follow us and who will, in turn, benefit society as a whole. Our legal progeny must be provided with an environment in which they have the opportunity to excel; we must give them the tools not just to follow us but to do even better than we have done. They must be challenged in their educational and professional development and urged to strive for not just mere competence but, instead, for professional excellence.
While law school training in the basics and principles of the law provides future advocates with the essential theoretical knowledge that they will need to pursue their careers, moot court activities provide a forum in which we, as attorneys, can dig down into the very soul of our persona and give back some of that which we have been given. We can share our experience and our expertise with those who are eager to learn and cultivate in them a desire to strive for excellence. We can provide them with practical skills that can enhance and supplement their professional development. We can strive to make them better so that our profession will be better.
From a different perspective, involvement in moot court activities also serves as a means of enabling us, as attorneys, to improve and enhance our own individual skills. It provides us with an opportunity to look introspectively into our own evolution and development as seasoned advocates to determine whether we have become the best that we can be. When we utilize our skills in presenting a case to the court, we do so before the bench from the perspective of an advocate for the rights of our client. We research the applicable law, prepare our arguments, and rehearse our presentations to the court from the perspective of an advocate. We try to prepare the best-case presentation possible from the perspective of an advocate for our client. However, we seldom prepare the case or view it from the perspective of the judge who sits behind the bench. That perspective may well be different from the perspective before the bench. The judge sitting behind the bench may well understand the argument that you are presenting and may or may not agree with it, but this judge is listening to it and seeing it with ears and eyes that are penetrating it in an effort to observe the legal gymnastics that you are utilizing in an effort to support your case. You may feel that the methods you are using in presenting your case are effectively concealing its weaknesses. You may feel that you are effectively using misdirection to divert the court from considering those issues that you want to avoid. You may even feel that you are being effectively “cute.” However, the judge may not share that sentiment, and you may not even realize it or be aware of it because you have never viewed such a presentation from the perspective of the one who is sitting behind the bench. Yet, by engaging in the moot court experience as a moot court judge, you can suddenly view and appreciate the world behind the bench.
As a moot court judge, you have the opportunity to view the presentation of a case from the perspective of a sitting judge and evaluate which arguments are soundly reasoned and convincing, and which have no merit whatsoever and should never have been presented. Applying this understanding to your own work as an advocate, you can better see how arguments that have some merit but are not convincing could result in the judge being adversely disposed toward your case, while those that are totally frivolous are likely to incur the wrath of the judge against you. You will be able to determine what is effective and what is detrimental. Being a moot court judge is a learning experience for both the student and the attorney.
The moot court experience constitutes a win-win situation. The student wins by moving beyond theory and gaining invaluable experience and insight into the actual workings of a courtroom. He or she gains this by means of Practice, Practice, Practice. The student benefits.
The attorney (moot court judge) gains invaluable insight into the realm of jurist intervention and a view from behind the bench. The attorney can incorporate this experience into the methodology he or she uses to protect and advance the rights of clients. The attorney and the legal profession benefit.
The members of the general public become the recipients of better and improved legal services when students of the law and members of the legal profession are better trained and better equipped to render those services that they have committed to undertake. Society benefits.
It is submitted that the moot court experience provides an environment that results in a win-win situation, with its genesis founded in Practice, Practice, Practice.