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A Mercenary’s Lament

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Feb 10, 2014 in NotFail

mer•ce•nar•y (pl. mercenaries) – noun. a professional soldier hired to serve in a foreign army.

Today’s my first day “back in the real world” after spending the past weekend at the annual TYLA NTC Regionals.1 And where I coached my very first TYLA trial team, comprised of two 2Ls and a 3L.

A team that ended the competition as finalists :surprised:

In turn making them the best trial team in both North Carolina and South Carolina.2 Not to mention going further in that competition than I ever made it myself.

From… the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

That’s not a typo. It’s the same institution I’ve ridiculed on this very website as The University of Non-Compliance at Cheater Haven. The one whose students meme’d me in my NC State hat. The one with its very own “#gthc” tag here at law:/dev/null.3

And I was their coach :beatup:

So how did a guy with an eagle carving on his dining room table plus another on a bookshelf and a third on my bedroom wall — alongside a wolf painting, a wolf carving, even the comforter on my bed — end up in the finals of my favorite mock trial competition helping the one institution that happens to be a rival of both my undergrad and professional school alma maters?4

My team, from L to R: Jonathan Williams '15 (Defense), Michelle Markham '14 (Swing), Dave Fitzgerald '15 (Plaintiff), Eli Sevcik-Timberg '14 (Student Coach)

My team, from L to R: Jonathan Williams ’15 (Defense), Michelle Markham ’14 (Swing), Dave Fitzgerald ’15 (Plaintiff), Eli Sevcik-Timberg ’14 (Student Coach)

Well first we had an amazing team. I was a little nervous at the start because only one student was a 3L; the other two were 2Ls who’d never competed in anything before, and the 3L student coach assigned to work with me had experience but not in TYLA.

I also got the impression at a few points in practice that our goal was just to not embarrass ourselves — I don’t think anyone (admittedly, myself included) thought we had any shot at going anywhere.

But let me tell you: when it counted, they competed. All three of them turned in solid performances to nab the #6 seed after the first three rounds, setting up a semifinal match against the University of South Carolina for Sunday morning. They promptly slaughtered USC and pushed us on to the finals.5

“But TDot! But TDot!” I hear you saying, “WHY were you working for them?”

Aaanndd… that’s where the title for the blog post comes in. ;)

Last winter my 2L/3L TYLA coach6 and I had talked about the future of NCCU Law‘s team and whether there’d be a spot for me anywhere as an assistant coach. Nothing ever happened with it, so in the Spring I volunteered to be one of the guest judges for the TYLA Regionals when they were hosted by Campbell Law down in Raleigh.

For my round I watched an absolutely superb performance by a team from WFU Law — a team that ended up getting functionally disqualified when a meritless protest was filed over WFU’s cross-examination of the other side’s expert, and the “protest committee” voted to give them -0- points for the cross.7 I felt bad for them. And I also decided that I hated the idea of “just” being a judge if our ballots could be summarily disregarded by a 5-member committee of other competing coaches.

Fast forward to early October. The Monday before the 2L/3L trial team tryouts to be exact. I still stop by the NCCU Law building on a fairly regular basis, so during one of those trips while I’m down in our clinic area I make some inquiries about the process to become a trial team coach.

Now in retrospect I don’t know what response I expected. I figured, at the very least, it would be something along the lines of “All the coach spots are filled for every team at the moment, but when something opens up we’ll let you know.”8 Instead the response I got was as clear as it was unambiguous: “Coaches have to have 5 years of practice experience. That’s the rule.”

I was a smidge annoyed. But rules are rules, right?

So a couple days later, when I’m down in Wake County for a traffic case, I talked with one of my 2L AAJ trial coaches (a District Court Judge down there) about how he got involved. Apparently someone just called and asked him to do it. But he went on to tell me no one even asked him to return as a coach my 3L year or the year after. That in turn led me to express my frustration over how I felt the law school treated our competitions as afterthoughts, and how I really wanted to run one of these teams to show what could be done.

Well even though he’s an NCCU Law alum, he’s also a dyed-in-the-wool Tar Heel as well. He had heard the UNCCH trial team advisor was out for the semester due to a medical issue and suggested I consider looking there.

I then texted a friend of mine from my NC State days who had just graduated from UNCCH Law the prior year. She confirmed the story on the advisor and said it would be “awesome if [I] potentially think about maybe” being their coach (after confessing surprise that I like trial team :crack: ). And if I wanted her to make a call the spot would be mine.

Unpaid, but a shot nonetheless.

Not quite ready to go calling in favors, I had lunch with my other 2L TYLA coach the next week to get his advice on basically squaring off against my own school. And he said to go for it. I’m paraphrasing here, but his argument was something along the lines of “Think about what it says for Central if you do well, what it says if your alma mater’s graduates do a better job at this than their own.”

Still not fully comfortable with the thought of switching sides, I sent a text message to my 2L/3L TYLA coach to get his thoughts since he was still in charge. When he saw me at the Alumni Association meeting that Saturday, he said to take the spot as well.

So I did.

I Facebook-messaged a UNCCH 2L I knew from UNCASG, who in turn put me in touch with the Trial Advocacy Board chairman over there, who in turn connected me with the TYLA squad and a 3L student coach to assist. And the rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

“But TDot! But TDot!” you interrupt again, “WHHYYY??”

Well… because my alma mater didn’t want me :(

Look, you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who loves NCCU Law more than I do (or NC State for that matter). You’ll be equally hard pressed to find anyone who takes quite as much glee in disparaging UNC Chapel Hill as I do. The students on the NCCU teams that didn’t make it were real people, including two of my mentees

And I can’t even articulate for you in words how awkward it felt when I actually typed “#goheelsgoamerica” into my phone for a Facebook status. :beatup:

But the fact is it didn’t make a d*mn lick of sense for me to sit on the sidelines getting rusty for another year waiting on my alma mater to let me help. And it most definitely didn’t make a d*mn lick of sense for me to do that for 4 more years until I’d reach some arbitrary quantum of real world experience.

UNCCH needed someone. They offered me that opportunity. The folks I met turned out to be really cool people. And, having made a commitment to them, I wasn’t going to let them down.

So I didn’t. :)

Now the only issue at this point is really what other folks’ decide will happen next year. Because now that I know the finals are attainable, I’m not going away until nationals…

—===—

From the law:/dev/null competition-related archives:

  1. I know I’m behind schedule on the “blog more” resolution, but it’s still early in the year and anything can happen :P []
  2. The regional winners were the University of Georgia — the same school that knocked out EIC, Shutterbug, and I back in Memphis two years ago :mad: — and Georgia State University. []
  3. “GTHC” means “Go to Hell, Carolina!” for the uninitiated ;) []
  4. No comments from UNCCH homers on “omg you’re not our rival!” I’ve enjoyed enough hostility while wearing my NCSU paraphernalia to sporting events and NCCU paraphernalia to law events to know better :* []
  5. Frankly I don’t fully understand how we lost the final round, and got the impression the judges were scoring based on the merits of the case rather than the advocacy. But I’m also biased. []
  6. Don’t have nicknames for most of the folks in this entry, so I’m going to titles. []
  7. The ruling was improper, and it was sufficiently improper that TYLA amended their Rules for this year’s competition to prevent situations like that from happening again. []
  8. It’s not like I swept both 3L competitions and was on the #1-seeded team in the 2012 TYLA Regional semis while serving as SBA President and graduating with honors and two concentrations or anything… :beatup: []

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