I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in TYLA’s 41st National Trial Competition (NTC). I did not have to do any of the heavy lifting when it came to planning and organizing this impressive event, where more than 300 teams representing law schools from across the country gather to showcase their advocacy skills. But, since NTC was in my backyard, I was one of the many that volunteered to help. (Sidebar: Thanks to anyone who has ever helped or participated in NTC!)
When I arrived at the Dallas County Courthouse I was assigned to the role of “witness” for Team 6. As I walked into the courtroom to meet my new team, memories of law school advocacy competitions came flooding back. I chuckled about how many hours my fellow teammates and I would practice our arguments, analyze the record and fictional depositions, and get grilled by our coaches. I remember thinking, “This is what the practice of law would be like.” (It’s OK to laugh at my naiveté…I’m laughing too!)
I quickly discovered that the stakes are much higher when the client is real. The knowledge that a bad day in the courtroom might hurt our career is not nearly as unsettling as the lasting effect the decisions made in the courtroom have on someone’s family or pocketbook. The stress and pressure put on an attorney can be overwhelming. But, as I looked at Team 6, I did not see fear. Instead I saw excitement and hope. Team 6 was confident and ready to show the world (or the other volunteers serving as the judges) that they were prepared and ready to go.
As lawyers sometimes the daily grind can zap our enthusiasm. We might get tired of working on never-ending document productions, or reading case after case looking for the unicorn with our exact same fact pattern and a favorable outcome. The practice of law doesn’t come with a lovely case packet with all facts, exhibits, and depositions wrapped up in a pretty bow. We have to find the witnesses, draft the discovery, and take the depositions before we can spend hours upon hours analyzing the record and crafting our argument.
The time spent on each case can feel like climbing to the top of a mountain. But, every time I look back and remember the journey, no matter how long, steep, and treacherous, I always feel a sense of purpose. I am so thankful for my law school advocacy teams and coaches for providing the initial introduction to important legal skills that I work daily to develop and polish. As I left Team 6 that day, I felt not only nostalgic but also reenergized about the practice of law.
Now, I know not everyone is wired like me, so I am not suggesting that participation in a mock trial will automatically inspire you to be the best lawyer you can be. But I would encourage you to remember what it was about the practice of law that filled you with excitement and hope like I saw in the eyes of Team 6.