There is a lot of sentiment like Dan Joyner’s on Opinio Juris around at the moment. The inevitable effect of a flurry of regional rounds.
Like many coaches, I find myself in a position this year that is just all to familiar: coach of a beaten Jessup team that out-competed its opponents on the law, only to be out-played by a tepid bench that bought into “used car salesman’ advocacy.
Watching a good team lose, enabled by an unqualified bench that was unable to ask a single pointed question but bedazzled by ‘empty shirt’ advocacy is a teeth-grinding experience.
Watching a team fluently recite a pre-prepared error-ridden speech without an iota of deviation for 20+ minutes is alien to everything Jessup should be. An odious violation of everything Jessup has given to me, and everything I’ve tried to give back.
So I have a choice. I can teach my team to do it right or I can teach them how to win the regional.
I choose to teach them to do it right. I owe them that.
I believe that the most important thing about Jessup is my team’s growth, learning and development and not whether some obviously unqualified judges think they were better then the opponent.
I believe that teaching my team to find, to ignite and stoke, their passion for international law is more important than teaching them to cater for the opinions of the uneducated and unwilling press-ganged to act as judges.
I believe that teaching my team to develop an abiding love of the challenge of Jessup – the exhilarating willingness to take on the challenge of an intellectual mountain – is more important than teaching them to cater for those who mistake the mountain for a country-park stroll.
I believe that teaching my team to understand the law correctly is important and that teaching them how to con these obviously unqualified judges into believing nonsense is not.
I believe that teaching my team to learn, and respect, the details and finer points of the law is important and that teaching them to over-simplify, obscure or mislead is not.
I believe that teaching my team to work constantly at challenging each other, reviewing their arguments, and researching further is the best preparation for the real practice of law and that dictating what they will say, and requiring them to rehearse it to perfection, makes only better robots.
I believe that teaching my team to work strongly together, to teach and support each other, is the best preparation for real life and that teaching them to ‘do what it takes to win’ is despicable.
I believe that teaching my team to win, or lose, with grace and poise, with a friendly hand shake and a sincere compliment for the other side, is more important than to cultivate an unfriendly aloof competitiveness that pervades the competition with a ‘win at all costs’ ruthlessness.
I believe that teaching my team to work within the rules, to accept its constraints and the demands it places, with honest acceptance and sincere endeavour is better than recruiting an ever increasing number of student ‘team advisors’ every year.
What I don’t believe – and this I want to make abundantly clear – is that it’s the job of ILSA to help me realise these beliefs. That’s not what they do, and that’s not what they’re for. They couldn’t help me achieve one jot of this, even if they tried.
So I’ll finish this Jessup year the same way that I finish every Jessup year. The way I choose to finish it, informed by how I chose to start it: Fiercely, joyfully, proud of my team. For their hard work, their commitment to learning, their commitment to fair play, their camaraderie and new found friendships, their mastery of public international law, their grace and poise in defeat and their characteristic strength in already deciding that they’ll do Jessup again next year.
If I hoped to teach them anything, I wanted to teach them to do Jessup the right way. They did Jessup the right way. And that’s how they’ll do it again.