Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

I volunteer as a judge for a lot of moot court/mock trial completions. In part I am motivated by selfish reasons: the faculty advisory for the Pre-Law program at Buffalo State furnishes my Discovery class with students to role-play witnesses, so there is a mutually beneficial quid pro quo. In part I do it because I feel as though lawyer training is a component of professionalism. But mostly I do it because it's kinda fun. It's fun because it is a sort of teaching, which I enjoy; and it's fun because the problems (more so in the Moot Court setting) are typically topical, interesting constitutional law issues with which I would otherwise never be engaged. So, yeah, I'm a law geek. This year Buff State is fielding a moot court team for the first time and I'm helping work with the students one night a week.  Their problem involves a Fourth Amendment issue (is tracking a suspect who has disabled the GPS on his phone by using the phone's location relative to cell towers a 4th Amendment violation?) and a Presidential Powers question (can the President order the indefinite detention of a US citizen suspected of terrorist activity when the subject is arrested on US soil?). Somehow I have also found myself elevated to judging the quarter-finals of UB's Desmond Moot Court completion, which is the law school's means of selection members of the Moot Court Board. This problem, which is 66 pages of light reading, even before you get to the case law, also has two pieces, one about the President's recess appointment power and one about whether corporations can invoke the protections of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

So, fun for me, but this morning as I was on my way into work I mused a bit over the value of the exercise. I am deeply troubled by the current crisis in our glamor profession, and feel ambivalent at best about engaging in activities which encourage undergraduates to attend law school. There are a half-dozen of us coaching the two Buff State students, and although these two men seem bright and hard working they would be much, much better off if they were planing on being bright and hard working in some other sort of job. I've made no secret of this in my conversations with them, and have gotten nowhere, so now my job is to help them accomplish as much as they can in their competition.

My law student problem is a bit different. They are already screwed, so my question with respect to my involvement with them is whether it makes any sense at all to have them arguing complex questions of constitutional law. Wouldn't it be better if they had to argue an appeal arising from a knotty CPLR issue, or a business law problem? Actually, I think not. There is a movement (there has always been a movement, I guess) to make law school more "practical". There is value to that, but something profound would be lost if we moved away from the notion of law as a learned profession and towards becoming legal mechanics. Lay people may have opinions about the scope of the President's Article II powers, but lawyers should know and understand them, even if we will never have to confront an Article II issue in the course of a custody dispute or a DWI plea.

| Comments:
There are often arguments in favor of making education "practical", as in readying the future work force for the current workplace, which always seems less than practical to me. Education should provide the tools you'll need to learn, as much as the common content. Algebra will always be algebra and Shakespeare will always be Shakespeare and there are reasons this content has become as nearly universal as it has, but Visual Basic, let alone Windows, is just a Microsoft product, not programming, and should be treated as such. Higher education specialism is not different in this regard, I think, whether the US Constitution is treated as "living" document or not, and regardless of how courtroom procedures evolve, I suppose.

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