Like many law students who grew up marathoning Law & Order, being on the mock trial team is the closest I’ll ever get to being Casey Novak (loans are knocking, so big law calls, unforch). Mock trial is like playing lawyer. You and your partner are given a packet of evidence to prepare for both defense and plaintiff sides, and then during trial you get to do direct and cross-examination on witnesses.
After closing arguments, the judge sometimes breaks character and offers helpful critiques. The judge isn’t actually a judge, of course, but usually a civil trial attorney who volunteered to get pro bono hours and have a captive audience for war stories. They are sure to regale with tales of The Best Question They Ever Asked on Cross and The Most Powerful Theme They Ever Used for Defense. Cue kiss-ass “wows” and “that’s amazings” from students.
However, one judge recently made a comment that I can’t shake. He noted that during trial, the women (we made up three out of the four mockers) mumbled to ourselves in between questioning witnesses. It showed, or gave the appearance of, a lack of self-confidence.
My female law school colleagues are some of the most brilliant people I’ve met—intimidatingly so—but it is striking to notice how many of us introduce comments in class with a mumbled disclaimer. Why aren’t we confident in our contributions, even when we intuitively know that they’re valid?
Besides it probably being annoying to the professor who really just wants to quickly move on from picking apart the Chevron Doctrine for the thousandth straight year (amiright, law compadres?!), the mumbled disclaimer tells your listener that what you are saying isn’t strong enough to stand on its own.
Disclaimers clearly don’t make our contributions stronger—quite the opposite. But the funny thing is, none of us know what we’re doing or what we’re talking about, men included—it’s all an act.
On the flip side, men are doing themselves a service when, without starting with “I’m not sure if this is right…” or “I’m sorry, I was wondering…” they talk aggressively in class or assert unsubstantiated points at meetings. When guys blurt out an argument with no self-skepticism, we all are more likely to accept whatever they’re saying, even if it’s completely ludicrous (looking at you, Scalia).
Ladies, we are doing ourselves a disservice by acknowledging through visible, audible discomfort that we aren’t 100% convinced of our own arguments. Instead, we should be asking questions, asserting answers, and making arguments without letting everyone else know that we have no idea what we’re doing.