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March 9, 2007

The Competition Question

Team As I prepare a mock trial team for the National Ethics Trial Competition next week, I have been wondering about the educational value of interscholastic moot court and mock trial contests.  Obviously, I think there is some value in them, or I wouldn't be involved, but I would concede it is a complex question.  The contests are necessarily artificial, and (except for client counseling competitions) cut out one of the most important aspects of legal work--  interaction with a client.   

With my teams, I try to give them freedom to developing their own examinations, openings and closings, while I guide them only on the process to do so.  It often is a great teaching opportunity, as while the competition system is imperfect, it is closer to the practice of law than much of the rest of law school.

Due to good coaching and a dedication of resources, there are powerhouse schools that do very well in competition year after year, such as South Texas and Stetson.   Intriguingly, there is little overlap between top-ranked academic schools and the top-ranked competition schools; I have never seen Yale involved in a national mock trial competition.   I would imagine this is because those schools do not have a focus on practical trial skills.   That fact conceded, though, I would imagine that some of those schools might want to use teams to satisfy those students in their midsts hungering for more practical experience. 

-- Mark Osler


March 9, 2007 in Teaching -- pedagogy | Permalink


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Some of the top-ranked schools indeed do have moot court, mock trial, client counseling, and other types of skills-based competitions. The reason you don't see them on the "national circuit," though is because administrators have concluded that the intramural competitions are just as valuable, if not more so, at a fraction of the cost (expense and time to students in travel and missed classes). Perhaps administrators also think the quality of competition at their elite schools is better than what they would face elsewhere (although that is likely a secondary consideration). The question is how schools like Baylor, Stetson, and South Texas justify the expense of travel. My guess is that the travel is often funded by wealthy trial lawyer alums, who prefer the activity to funding something more mundane like scholarships. It is also more likely pursued by the lower-tier schools because it provides something to brag about to alums and the other law schools. Top-ranked schools don't need such bragging points.

Posted by: Anon | Mar 12, 2007 6:16:31 PM

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