Sunday, November 14, 2021

Perseverance and Poise

Usually, we gather each August in Orlando for the WCI. Some of us no longer remember why we gather. but we do. I will never forget a few years ago I ran into a retiree at the WCI and asked simply "what are you doing here?" The old, wise, lawyer said simply "its August Dave, and in August you come to Orlando, always have." There is much to learn, many with whom to connect, and so much more. It has been a regular part of my professional life for more years than I am currently willing to put down in writing. Suffice it say that it has been decades.

My favorite part of WCI, without any apology or hesitation, is the Zehmer Moot Court Competition. In the early days following taking the bench, I was honored and bit anxious when they offered to let me judge in the preliminary rounds. I have participated in many of the last 20 competitions, and even had the opportunity to write the problem one year. For whatever reason, they never asked for a writing encore, but this post is not about disappointment. It is about perseverance and poise.

This pandemic kicked everyone. Sure, some were kicked harder than others. I lament the many that became infected, hospitalized, and worse. It has been a downright tragic situation for so many. Against the backdrop of tragedy and tribulation, As Rick noted years ago, "it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world." Casablanca, Warner Brothers 1942). That is so true even today. I am thankful for so much and must remind myself that I really have no problems. Sure, I still complain, but I really should not. I have been lucky to largely avoid the impacts of this pandemic.

Yesterday, I participated in the Zehmer Moot Court Competition remotely, virtually, clumsily. It is, after all, hard to teach us old dogs any tricks, new or otherwise. The great Moot Court Committee team did a fantastic job of putting on a virtual oral argument for 20 teams from across the country. Participants were confronted with the pandemic, an infected firefighter that passed away, challenges of causation, evidentiary standards, admissibility, public policy arguments, and much more. I did not get to see all the teams, but those competing in my two rounds were EXCEPTIONAL!

They were dealt a failed hand. That is often the case in the law. It is rare that you get a perfect set of facts, an unblemished record, a win/win situation. That, they say, is why it is called a "practice." See, the conference this year is in December, an accommodation to the COVID. We will be live and in living color at the Marriott World Center, December 13-16, 2021. We will be teaching, learning, trading stories, and interacting as in days of yore. I cannot adequately express how much I anticipate this opportunity. It is in December. That is hard to wrap the brain around, but that is a small accommodation. In coming days, I will be posting on some of the programs in which I am involved this year. 

A challenge with December, however, is that law students take their exams then. Unfortunately, they are more worried about those exams than their Moot Court argument (sarcasm, kidding). So, the undaunted committee set up a virtual prelim and elimination round for November. The judges, teams, timekeepers and all appeared via Zoom. We were blessed with exceptional help from a veritable gang of technical experts from The Florida State University School of Law. On a Saturday, the Dean herself tuned in to participate. I guess that is not that different than getting a bunch of judges to give up a weekend, but I was duly impressed. 

As a side note, I have known Dean Erin O'Conner for several years. Admittedly, that has been largely in passing. But, I have been persistently impressed with one facet of her personality - optimism. She simply does not believe in the word "cannot." She is a realist, but she is a leader. I was at one of the early meetings on this "virtual" plan, and she repeatedly uttered "we can work around that." Her aplomb and eagerness to make this thing work for the students has been persistently exceptional. I expect it could not have been pulled off without her attitude, team, and resources. The WCI is blessed with that partnership.

However, her attitude is perhaps no more exceptional than the attitude of the Moot Court Committee. Hon. Jacquelyn Steele has been doing this competition for longer than I can remember. That is a riddle, because I admittedly used to able to remember further back. Getting old is both a blessing and a curse. However, Judge Steele has been involved a long time. She has partnered all those years with Tracey Hyde, who practices workers' compensation in Panama City and beyond. Amy Deguzman practices in Jacksonville and completes the triumvirate of the team. They have support, and there are others involved. But, year after year, competition after competition, these three keep producing a world-class program for great students. They solve the problems, overcome the challenges, and keep it about the students. They are exceptional, dedicated, and outstanding. Someone should recognize them publicly, thus this post. 

Certainly, one of their major supporters is Richard Sicking. He generally writes the problems. And, each year before arguments, he provides an overview of the intricacies of the problem. This year, his overview started in Germany in the 19th century, proceeded through the Triangle Fire, unions, and more. It was a history lesson long on ancient history. Some lament his starting so far in the past, but it is understandable. Richard is one of the few left among us that was actually alive in the 19th century. He literally has forgotten more about workers' compensation than most people will ever know.

The competition teams were likewise outstanding, demonstrating that today's students have faced the fact that pandemic means change. They have adapted, and persevered. More importantly, they have done it with pride and poise. The looked into those cameras yesterday and they did the job attorneys do in appellate practice. I was proud of them, the committee, and the many volunteer judges that tuned in and made it work. The gathering in December will be the first WCI without a live moot court argument in decades. Confronted with a challenge, however, the committee pulled off a great alternative. I am grateful to everyone involved for proving that we are bigger than COVID, stronger than COVID, and that we will persist despite its challenges. 

I hope to see you in December. I look forward to being a community again, though there will still be much sanitizing, and distancing. I will strive to greet you and shake hands, but if you are troubled by that, please just says so. I am happy to accommodate whatever precautions you need, and we can speak from 6 feet if you prefer. I will enjoy just speaking with you at all. Welcome back to a live event of epic proportions. I look forward to seeing you soon.