November 4, 2008

Frustration with the ABA

I'm not real thrilled with the ABA right now. The relevant dates for its National Appellate Advocacy Competition have been out for some time, but only in the past few weeks have I come to realize just how burdensome they are. I know the NAAC subcommittee consists mostly of law school professors, but you wouldn't know it by the problem release date and brief deadline.

In years past, the NAAC problem was distributed in early December -- typically just before students start taking their exams. No big deal, though, because the brief deadline always fell in mid-January, giving students at most schools the opportunity to finish up their exams before turning their attention to the problem and allowing them at least 30 days to research and write.

This year? Not quite. The problem will supposedly be released some time next week, although the ABA hasn't indicated whether schools will get it Monday the 10th, Friday the 14th, or sometime in between. That's certainly nice of them to release it a bit earlier than usual, but don't forget what most students are (or at least should be) doing right now: Going into "lockdown mode" for their exams. At many schools, exams will start just after Thanksgiving. But even at schools that start exams a week later, this is no time of year to be introducing new extracurricular activities to students. This is the point in the semester when students want and need to be wrapping up their outside involvements to concentrate on their classes.

And the kicker? The brief is due January 5. So yeah -- students don't really have the option of waiting until after exams to start work on their briefs, because two or three weeks (which include holiday travels and family gatherings) just isn't enough time to tackle a complex moot court problem. Consequently, it forces students to spend the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving -- time they should be spending synthesizing a semester's worth of reading and notes -- working on a brand new moot court problem. And what about students who are preparing for the regional rounds of the National Moot Court Competition (scheduled to take place over the next few weeks)? Many of them will likewise compete in the NAAC, which means the new deadline forces them to take on two moot court problems at once.

That's plain silly. I suspect that the ABA made the change to allow sufficient time for its brief graders to do their jobs before the regional rounds start in late February. That's certainly an acceptable reason, but I wonder whether it's really necessary -- the old deadline allowed for more than five weeks of regional grading. That should be more than enough time, especially considering the regional graders are only responsible for scoring eight briefs.

A closer look at the NAAC's "Confidential Information for Participants Only" page (to which I won't link, because the ABA has designated it solely for the eyes of students and coaches) confirms my guess. According to the cover letter the NAAC subcommittee will send to its regional brief graders, scores are due back February 2 -- nearly a month before the first regional! Certainly, I recognize that to some extent, the ABA is scheduling in wiggle room for tardy graders. I also appreciate the fact that the permanent staff at the ABA's Law Student Division consists of just two people, and that gathering and compiling brief scores for 200-some teams can't be done in a day. But a whole month? That seems a bit overboard, particularly when the ABA is able to get the briefs of the 24 national-qualifying teams re-graded (and scores compiled) in less two weeks.

But even assuming that the ABA really does need a whole month to compile scores from its brief graders, why not release the problem earlier? If you decide to so heavily burden the students and interfere with their studies, the least you could do is release the problem in early-to-mid-October, recognizing that from mid-November through mid-December, students should be focused on their classwork.

Don't get me wrong -- I think the ABA NAAC is one of the best moot court competitions in the country. In my mind, it sets the standard by which other competitions should strive to achieve. Moreover, the Law Student Division is incredibly well run, and I'm amazed each year by the quality, professionalism, and helpfulness of its staff. But this year's scheduling change is unfortunate. Either allow the students a full month to research and write after their fall exams, or release the problem earlier to allow the students a better head start before they must turn to their classwork.

1 comment:

Kuvaszmom said...

I agree, and thanks for highlighting the problem. Some of us don't choose our teams for the NAAC competition until the end of our terms. The old release date allowed us to do that and still leave plenty of time for the students to study for exams, take the exams, take a little holiday break, and write the briefs.

I agree that the NAAC has always been a great competition. It's incredibly well run, and our students have applauded its transparency. I hope, though, that in the future, the ABA's NAAC committee will consider reverting to the old deadlines.