Friday, April 27, 2012

Baylor Practice Court: Myths, Legends, and Fear

Alert Undead Bar Association reader S. Einhorn contacted me today about a new Baylor Law news article. You can find it here, in the electronic copy of the Spring 2012 BaylorLine Magazine. Go to pages 18-19 and click on 'Read More' at the bottom of page 18. The article discusses Baylor Law's legendary Practice Court (PC) program.

I've mentioned the PC program on this blog before, when I discussed the joys of memos. This blog post will tackle PC from a different angle.

Two things about the Baylor Line article warrant comment. First: the myths, legends, and fear.

The article and the accompanying page of quotes from current students (first and second years who have yet to enter PC) cover the usual PC myths and legends. From the article:

Practice Court students circulate a list of advice to help incoming students avoid excessive classroom questioning. “Do not wear loud colors or patterns of attire. This attracts their attention,” they warn. Students are also advised to “Sit low in your chair,” and “Do not make eye contact.”
 

Really? Students and alumni are still telling pre-PC students that BS? You've got to be kidding me.

There is no statistically significant relationship between the color of your clothing and the number of times you are called on in class. Ditto making eye contact. Ditto on slumping down in your seat and trying to hide. There is also no connection between the number of memos Prof. Powell will hand out in a given day and which suit he is wearing (An upper level student told me that if Powell wore the pinstripe suit with the vest, it was time to run for the hills. For the first month, until I learned better, I believed).

I'm not saying this lightly. I observed the class action closely, and watched for trends. When I say there is no statistically significant relationship, I'm telling you that as a stats nerd with an undergrad business degree and a graduate business degree (in process while I was also pursuing my law degree), I did the analysis, and there was no connection. Myths and legends. Not reality.

If the prof wants to call on you, he will. There is no way to avoid the inevitable. And frankly, you should worry more if you're not called on. If the professor doesn't call you out the most you can hope to learn is the class material, and that's not enough. You can't learn to be a good attorney if you're always sitting down.

What if instead of perpetuating myths and legends, we told the truth. What if we told the pre-PC students something like this: “Forget about avoiding questions. You shouldn't be afraid that you'll be called on. Be afraid that when you are called on, you won't be sufficiently prepared. Be afraid that the professor calls on you to teach you a lesson, and you miss the point. Be afraid of making all your mistakes so quietly and so privately, of hiding your weaknesses so well, that the professor fails to see you need instruction. Don't fear the PC system. Fear your own demons...then see them for what they are, and crush them.”

But that doesn't happen. Why? Long-time reader D. Weaver put it best, in a message she sent me this afternoon: People make up crap to appear wise and important.

The myths and legends that build false fear are carried on to satisfy egos. Yeesh.

The second point I'd like to make about the article, and it's minor: whether or not the Titanic case can be won.

For all you non-Baylor lawyers out there, the Titanic case is one of many cases used for the capstone trial at the end of the PC program. It's widely regarded as the most challenging of all cases that a student can be assigned.

A student in the article is quoted as saying that the defense cannot win the Titanic case. Wrong. It can be done. I know this first-hand, because I was sitting in the jury box when it happened.

You should never, ever, assume your side of a case in unwinnable. No matter what the fact pattern, your client has a chance. You, the attorney, are that chance.

To be fair, the student may not have gone into court assuming his client's case was unwinnable. He may simply have concluded the case was unwinnable because he lost. If that's true then the student is a victim of a lack of information. Someone didn't teach him PC history.

But don't all PC students suffer from a lack of history? Again, imagine what would happen if the community of alumni and students came together to speak the truth.

Myths, legends, and fear.

Like law school wasn't hard enough already.

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