This week I had my 1L appellate moot court oral argument and I also volunteered as a ‘witness’ for a friend’s clinic mock trial. Today’s blog will compare the two experiences.
First, this week marked the much anticipated final assignment for the 1L writing program: the appellate oral argument. My argument concerned whether evidence of conduct that takes place outside of work is admissible in Title VII sexual discrimination claims. I’ve spent the last month or so researching to make the argument that such evidence should be admitted. The oral argument was the ultimate test of how well I’d come to understand the law surrounding this question, and how well I could argue for my client.
For our moot court argument me, my writing partner and our two opposing partners met in the Stone Court Room at BU. The big room felt so empty with just four of us there. Then the clerk told us to rise and our judges – two upper classmen and a faculty member – entered and took their seats. We each had 15 minutes to make our arguments. A few things were surprising about this process; I would not have imagined them this way when I first started law school. First, because these were appellate arguments the facts were not as much at issue as the law. Second, we had no jury – the case was completely in the hands of the judges. Third, during these arguments the judges constantly interrupted us and asked us questions. I had thought before entering law school that the oral argument would be more of a speech, but it was really a question and answer session with our judges, who had already read our briefs and knew the case very well. It felt good to try something new and to know that we’re done with one of our classes for the year.
Second, on Friday I volunteered to be a witness in a friends mock trial for the Employment Rights Clinic. This case also concerned Title VII sexual discrimination claims, so it was especially interesting for me to see how another such case went. For this role, I had to read a 15 page fact pattern that was my character’s ‘sworn deposition’. I had to memorize the names of other characters in the facts, dates that important events took place, and my character’s personal situation. I went over all of this a few times with the attorneys on my side of the issue, and read the questions they would ask me on the stand. I didn’t know exactly what the other side would ask me, though so I had to read all the facts and remember as much as possible.
On the day of the mock trial I tried to dress as convincingly as I could (I was supposed to be a 41 year old mother of two and a law professor). I, the other witness, and the jurors sat outside the courtroom for about a half an hour at the beginning of the trial while the two sets of lawyers negotiated some issues of evidence and procedure. We then entered the courtroom and the trial began. Unlike the moot court exercise, this mock trial was done at the trial level – so the facts of the case and the rules of evidence were critical. A BU alumnus who was an experienced trial attorney served as the judge, and ruled on every question of evidence and procedure that came up.
After opening statements from both sides, I was called to the stand. I was nervous at first that I would forget something, but after a few minutes I eased into it and had fun playing my part. It reminded me a lot of improvisation. I knew I couldn’t mess up the facts, though, because the attorneys on both sides were counting on me, so I paid as close attention as I could. After about half an hour, examination, cross examination, and redirect were over and I was done with my job. I was pleased to hear my friend won at least one of the claims in his case and I had fun helping them and seeing what a mock trial was like.