Lawyering lessons learned on the road to the finals
Suffolk Law students Joshua Crawford '15, Susan Campers '15, and Shannon Day '15, and their coach Professor Richard Pizzano took the number two spot in the nationals in the prestigious Craven Constitutional Law Competition in Chapel Hill, NC. We caught up with the team to learn more about their road to the finals.
"Get yourself well-prepared, and don’t get in the weeds where you feel that you have to mention a specific phrase to win the case," said Susan Campers. "Also, you don’t want to imply that the court must do something. Give them the information they need to decide and let them make the decision. They don’t want to be told how to rule."
One challenge, says Shannon Day, is "getting comfortable enough that you can have a conversation with the judges that doesn’t feel scripted or robotic, so you can hold their interest, and yet still hit your main points. I think you can prepare so much that you get caught up in relating information, it becomes like lecturing, and then you aren’t as responsive to the direction the judges want to go."
"Before I started law school, I was told by an attorney that no matter how well-versed you are on the facts of the case, you can’t make every single person—judge or juror—like your style, and that’s something I've kept in the back of my mind," she added. "You have to figure out who you are, how you want to present yourself, and have confidence in those decisions."
Joshua Crawford said he’s learning to better read a judge’s preferences for courtroom interaction. "I can be off the cuff and blunt. During one of the rounds, I made a football analogy and it just came across as too folksy for one of the judges." You want to have a conversation with the judges, he said, but at the same time respect the formal nature of the proceeding. Crawford will be a Deputy District Attorney in Sacramento, CA, after he graduates.
At another competition, coach Pizzano remembered a student competitor who used a swear word that appeared on a t-shirt relevant to the case. “The student made a big drama out of the swear word by saying, ‘pardon mon Francais,’ and the judges winced,” he said. “It was just such an awkward moment and it’s very difficult to recover from that.”
In the long hours of preparation, Pizzano regularly threw curveball questions at the students to help them learn to think on their feet and to maintain a natural flow of conversation. "I also try to teach students to explain the narrative of the case in pictures to keep the attention of the judges."
What was the case about?
The case addressed whether strict voter ID requirements were potentially discriminatory or put an undue burden on voting rights, and therefore should be struck down by the appeals court. The case took Crawford v. Marion County Election Board as a starting point, and then complicated the matter by providing fewer exceptions to that case’s ID requirement.
Who were the competition judges?
The judges in the final round were Judge Swain of the Federal District Court, Southern District of New York and Justices Floyd and Thacker of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.