The night before their moot court competition, the students of Francis Lewis High School were nervous. For nearly two months, twenty students practiced twice weekly, two hours at a time, in front of a rotating group of eight Proskauer attorney coaches. The students read numerous Supreme Court cases and incorporated those cases into an oral argument on behalf of fictional clients. The pretend fact pattern the students were given concerned the constitutionality of a stop-and-frisk of a young woman in a high crime area. The students’ progress over the two months was palpable. At the beginning, the students spoke for a fraction of the time that they were allotted, their arguments lacked persuasiveness and organization as they spoke reluctantly, with awkward pauses and giggles you might expect from nervous teenagers. But session after session, those issues vanished.
The students mastered the make-believe fact pattern which at first seemed so complicated. The formalities of arguing before a panel of judges – which at first seemed daunting – were now innate. And the attorney coaches had become their close mentors and friends. But the night of the competition, eating cookies around a Proskauer conference room with their coaches, the nerves were back in full force. “What if we can’t remember a case? What if we go blank? What if we embarrass ourselves? What if we lose?”
The Proskauer coaches listened and smiled knowingly because they had seen the pre-competition jitters many times before. Indeed, this was the 29th year that Proskauer associates had teamed up to coach Francis Lewis students. The coaches lent perspective to the students, reminding them that there was no pressure because the real competition was already over. The students had already won. Clearly confused, the students asked: “What does that mean? If we already won, why haven’t we gotten a prize? So, you’re cool if we don’t show up tomorrow?”
When the laughter subsided, the coaches explained that the real competition, what really mattered, was the students’ hard work and preparation. The students’ actual prize was their sense of accomplishment and their ability to speak confidently in front of their peers, teachers, and employers. And, yes, they had to ‘show up tomorrow.’ But the competition was for fun. It was their opportunity to showcase everything they had worked so hard for. The coaches went on to say that even the most accomplished lawyers felt butterflies before big cases. It would be concerning if they didn’t feel nervous, because that would mean that they didn’t care enough.
The next day, the students argued masterfully in front of a packed room of Proskauer attorneys. The competition judges were partners Michael Cardozo, Margaret Dale and Josh Newville. They could not have been more impressed, and the associate coaches could not have been more proud. But the day got even better. The coaches received an email note from one of the team’s outgoing seniors. This student, a non-native English speaker who had worked with the team for over two years, informed the coaches that she had been accepted to her dream school, Fordham University. She wrote her college essay about her moot court experience, one of the Proskauer coaches had written her a letter of recommendation, and she credited moot court with giving her the confidence to nail her college interview. She thanked the coaches for helping to make her dream a reality. The coaches were moved: this was the point, this was what mattered. This is why they would do it again next year. (Well… this and the cookies!)