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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I Spent Hundreds of Hours Preparing For Moot Court. When I Got There, I Was Told To Smile More

Byrd 2CBC op-ed:  I Spent Hundreds of Hours Preparing For Moot Court. When I Got There, I Was Told to Smile More, by Amanda Byrd:

For the last eight months, I've been a member of a mooting team based at Osgoode Hall Law School that travelled the US and UK to participate in an international competition. For those of you who don't know (which is very likely everyone who is not a lawyer or law student), a moot is a mock court where law students argue simulated cases. They're designed to develop what we call "oral advocacy skills" (meaning; better arguing).

I put in hundreds of hours preparing for the competition. ... I argued the first round of the competition in the UK with my male partner. Given the seriousness of the case, it should go without saying that both my partner and I treated the material with what we perceived to be appropriate gravitas. ...

My mooting partner and I finished our arguments, and after a short break, eagerly returned to the room to receive feedback from our judges, two of whom were male. After praising my partner, who had legitimately done an incredible job, the first of these two judges informed me that "a smile would be nice" and told me I "looked bored". The second agreed, even going so far as to state that it was a shame I didn't smile more, because it was clear that I was knowledgeable and competent in my legal arguments. No one mentioned what my partner did with his face. He was only showered with praise.

I was stunned. I felt helpless and hopeless. And angry.

I had traveled over 5,000 kilometres to one of the world's most prestigious universities only to be critiqued on my appearance and lack of perceived "enthusiasm". But I knew the problem went far beyond the moot court competition. I had heard these statements before. In fact, I heard them more than once from male practice judges when I was preparing for this competition. The tenacity of my legal arguments, the sheer amount of research and thought and preparation, seemed inconsequential. I just really needed to smile more.

Is this the future of the legal profession? Courtrooms full of grinning female lawyers in high heels deferring to the expectations of our male counterparts? Smiling our way through murder trials and inquests?

Legal Education | Permalink


I think they told RBG the same thing

Posted by: mike livingston | Jun 12, 2018 4:29:31 AM

Not saying women don't sometimes get comments that men wouldn't get, but maybe if lots of your practice judges and your actual judges are all telling you the same thing it is not just because they happen to be men and you happen to be a woman. I think I have heard the phrase "Talk less, smile more" before....

Posted by: Matt | Jun 12, 2018 6:08:14 AM

I always reminded students to smile before they opened the door to meet with a recruiter. Works like a charm.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Jun 12, 2018 6:47:43 AM

Quote: Is this the future of the legal profession? Courtrooms full of grinning female lawyers in high heels deferring to the expectations of our male counterparts? Smiling our way through murder trials and inquests?

Alas, if you want to be a top-notch lawyer it is. And I would add that it has nothing to do with being female. It's about turning everything to the advantage of your clients.

Read about the trials that followed the 1911Triangle shirtwaist factory fire. The lawyer defending the factory's owners was a genius as coming across as almost painfully concerned about truth. He'd routinely interrupt the flow of testimony have previous statements re-read even though the correction might be minor. The jury was impressed, not realizing that was one of his techniques to build his credibility with them.

And yes, that technique worked quite well. The owners got off far more lightly than they ought, thanks to conflicting testimony about locked doors. I'd have rather seen them hang, but they did get what law profession values, good legal representation.
This isn't just law. A medical website, KevinMD, regularly has women, typically med students or residents, complaining about some slight to their dignity as women. For instance, they get called "Byrd" or even (gasp) "Amanda" rather than "Doctor Byrd." They failed to see what really matters. First, their patients are dealing with issues a thousand times more important. Their focus on themselves is irresponsible. Second, everyone in medicine, male and female, young and old, has to deal with slights. Not letting them distract you is a key part of being professional.

Indeed, if you want to come across as a seasoned professional, you must not be rattled by anything others do. I can give an example from my own experience.

If you're being treated for cancer, your physicians may install a Hickman line, so you don't have to deal with new IVs every few days. The hospital I worked at had two parents transfer in. They became upset because our nurses weren't doing Hickman line care as elaborately as those in California. Dr. Hickman himself was on our staff, so he was called in to patiently explain that their California hospital was using out-dated procedures. What was amusing was that, even then, those parents remained upset. I found that revealing: Not listening to what Dr. Hickman told them about the Hickman line, is about as insulting as you can imagine, and yet he took it well.

That's what this young woman needs to learn as a lawyer. If she doesn't, the lawyers on the other side will quickly throw her out of sorts with some veiled insult or another.

--Michael W. Perry, medical writer and author of My Nights with Leukemia

Posted by: Michael W. Perry | Jun 12, 2018 9:29:03 AM

This author has a very legitimate point to make about a form of unconscious sexism that is widely prevalent. That said, moot court is a farce. It is part of the law school fantasy experience to allow students to feel like interactive players. A lot like those expensive fantasy baseball camps middle age guys can attend with pros. No employers care about moot court. The judges don't care about moot court. They certainly aren't going to put "hundreds of hours" into understanding the law. Instead, they show up unprepared and critique superficial things, such as presentation and appearance. Those things matter in real life too, but far less than your briefing and arguments.

The best way to be taken seriously as a law student is to go to a good school, get good grades, and then go out and make $190k as a 26 year old associate. People pay attention when you charge/ make that much money. Trust me, the partner you are working for will care whether your understanding of the law is right. His professional life depends on it.

Posted by: JM | Jun 12, 2018 9:30:01 AM

Oral arguments are (almost) as much about presentation as they are substance. It was probably good advice. Nobody can see or hear how much prep time and research went into the delivery. It isn't how hard you work, it's how good is your product.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 13, 2018 9:34:48 AM

To ruralcounsel's point, if the judges were giving "smile more" advice equally to men and women, that's fine (IMO). To the extent she is upset because she received different advice because she's a woman, it would seem that she has a legitimate grievance.

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Jun 14, 2018 11:55:26 AM

Mr. Bruckner - the problem here is that you don't know that they gave her that advice because she was a she, and thus have no clue whether she has a legitimate grievance or not. Maybe she just didn't smile. And maybe everyone else did. Sometimes people get individualized advice, and if they don't care for it, they invent reasons that absolve themselves of any blame.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Jun 15, 2018 4:12:01 AM

When I did moot court 3 years ago, the judges told my male partner that he came across as “casual and condescending” and that they liked how I smiled at the beginning because it made it seem that I liked what I do. Court is partly about appearance.

Posted by: Carolyn Elefant | Jun 15, 2018 4:12:53 AM

I judged a moot court competition once and gave almost the exact same advice to a male arguing opposite a female. He was knowledgeable and prepared, but he was dismissive of the opposing arguments and he never smiled. This came across in a negative way and hurt his cause. It would have been offensive to me if he left with my advice thinking I only gave it because he was a male.

I can’t say whether gender played any role in the case at hand because the gender of the presenters wasn’t the only difference between their arguments, but the way this student dismissed the advice as merely gender driven is disappointing.

Posted by: JustMe | Jun 16, 2018 7:20:30 AM