The greatest teacher failure is

Remember that lawyer on a billboard or in a TV show that "had never lost a case?" Well, they don't exist in real life. While deep into preparation for my second bar exam, I got an email from a federal court - the Court had granted my opponent's motion on the first hotly contested issue I have been ever involved with in federal court. Dazed, I read the order, trying to figure out where I went wrong. I learned a few things from this order, which I will get to. More importantly than what I learned, was that I learned more from losing than I ever could have from winning. It pains me to write this, because how can losing be better than winning? I don't think losing is ever better than winning, but rather, that the greatest teacher failure is. Failure can either be a miserable experience, or it can be a miserable learning experience. All things considered, one might as well choose the latter and take something away from the agony of defeat.

For those interested in the legal intricacies of what I actually I learned, keep reading. First, in a federal court, you can do a better job of making a losing argument than someone who does a poor job of drafting a winning argument - and still have a court rule against you. Unlike the wild west of a state court, the underlying law and precedent likely dictates the ruling of a federal court more so than anything either side could have drafted. This is not always the case, as there are times when the issue really could go both ways, but in many cases the law is rather clear, and the most clever argument supported by snippets of case law will lose out to existing precedent.

The second thing I learned is that federal courts like to rule on the most narrow issue possible. If you give a mouse a cookie, he will ask for a glass of milk. If you give a federal court an out on an issue, they will take it. When choosing between a controversial decision that reaches new territory versus a narrow ruling, federal courts will likely choose the latter. If you want a ruling on a particular issue, don't give the court an out that provides the opportunity to avoid ruling on the issue.

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