Outwitted
Sunday, April 30, 2017
Justinian in Barely Legal, Examinations, Law students, Universities

 

Barely Legal hallucinates about the Witness Examination Competition ... Three rounds in a haze of Codeine ... The triumph of the inquisitorial learning process ... Winning, losing - who knows 

IT had never occurred to me to be grateful for my wisdom tooth extraction until I participated in the Witness Examination Competition. There I was, lying in bed at 4am and feverishly Googling grad student paranoiac fare like migraines permanent? and how little sleep until you die, when I suddenly remembered my stash of leftover Codeine from the operation. Finally, I could sleep.

Whoever tells you law school isn't as competitive as you think it will be is either a liar, a stoner, or the Dean.

When brutal grade scaling and waiting to see whose pre-law social life is first to shrivel up and die doesn't feel sufficiently dire, law students can pit themselves against each other in intra-school competitions. Mooting, client interviews, negotiations, Chinese negotiations, tax rorts, witness exams.

For the uninitiated, witness examination is the fun one: no extracurricular research and a risk-free opportunity for some hammy courtroom pontificating. So at the start of semester my friend and I picked a punny team name, cued up all our hazy memories of closing statements on Boston Legal and contemplated, but did not actually iron out, our business shirts. We were ready.

The Process

Forty-eight hours before the first round we received the "case": a real provision from the Crimes Act and two witness statements - one for the prosecution and one for the defence. I was acting as the defence witness Gazza, the white trash wannabe thespian of my dreams.

We developed a case theory, wrote opening and closing statements, scripted our examination-in-chief, and developed lines of questioning for the cross-exam - and all without having actually studied a lick of Evidence or Criminal Law. But that was a problem best left to the "judges", a troop of actual real life barristers who had passed the bar, somehow.

What could go wrong?

Round 1

That night we entered the "courtroom", a second level classroom, to discover a fellow student in jeans and a T-shirt sitting alone behind a desk.

"Hi," he greeted. "I'm your judge!"

No, you're not, I wanted to say. You're a baby.

But I kept my gob shut like a good witness and when all was said and done nodded meekly, even when our courtroom manner was criticised and he told us we'd plain old misread the legislation.

Also, we lost.

There must be some mistake. 4am rolled around and I reached for the Codeine. We were so good. Like, relatively speaking.

We really weren't, but thanks to the round robin system, we got another go at it.

Round 2

The case was a doozy. An old hippie lady accused of digging-up her husband's corpse and gyrating atop it. My partner and I made what was perhaps the unwise decision of preparing our necrophilia-laden case theory in a local cafe full of mums and impressionable children.

Thankfully, this round's judge couldn't have been nicer. At one point he asked if the prosecution wished to object.

"Yes. Leading?"

"Try again."

"Opinion?"

"And again."

"Hearsay?"

"Never mind."

Somehow, miraculously, we won.

Round 3

Things got off to a rocky start when we arrived at the competition office at the same time as that evening's judge. "How are you?" my partner inquired politely.

"I don't know," our judge replied, evidently cognisant of the need to maintain an appearance of impartiality At All Times. "You tell me."

He was also on the cusp of judicial statutory senility. Not a problem, except I was playing an 86-year-old nursing home resident, and as such had decided to wear a purple granny cardie.

But it wasn't my hackneyed old lady impersonation that did us in.

"I believe the defence may still wish to cross-examine you," he said, deceptively mild, when I unthinkingly left the stand directly after my partner's examination-in-chief. Oops.

We lost "by the slimmest of margins," though knowing this was honestly more salt than salve. At least the most memorable criticism of the night had been directed at the opposing counsel, who acknowledged rulings on objections with "yep, orright".

Oh well, we told ourselves. There's always next year. This sentiment made me wonder if the competition might not eventually give me cause to wear my pirate costume? Or a wig?

Thoughts like these probably mean I've taken away the wrong lessons from the whole experience. Then again, we were soundly trounced in Round 3, and that night I fell asleep without recourse to prescription analgesia.

Feels like winning to me.

 

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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