Practice Makes Perfect?

Today I had my suppression hearing for Criminal Practice and Procedure. I lost. I didn’t do well. I got nervous, and came off as a bumbling, unprepared fool. These things happen. As a couple of people reminded me, it’s practice. And practice makes perfect, right?

One my favorite teachers in high school was fond of saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.” I never really understood that until today. I have had several shots at tackling this nervousness thing that I have, including two rounds of moot court and the suppression hearing. Each time, I’ve gotten nervous and, with the exception of one or two rounds in moot court, it’s gotten in the way. It’s been frustrating and perplexing to me. Growing up I had pretty extensive experience with being in front of people. I was involved in drama, including my high school’s senior musical, I was VP of my school’s NHS chapter, I regularly led Bible studies for students. In all of that, I never got nervous. So why do I here?

Then it hit me today… because perfect practice makes perfect.

This is all practice for the “big show,” once we’ve all graduated, passed the bar, and are out there representing real clients in real cases. But how does practice help if every practice is flawed? If I’m nervous in every single practice experience I’ve had, how can I expect the real thing to be any different? I can’t. I need perfect practice for my practice. I realized today that this is what I’ve been missing.

When I was a senior in high school, I was cast in the role of Max in my high school senior musical production of The Sound of Music (he had a more expanded role, and had two songs in the stage version). Before the big night, I rehearsed and rehearsed, practicing my lines and singing my songs for my parents, in my car, in the shower. Practice was constant, so that when I was at my rehearsals (another form of practice), I was prepared. When I had to be off book, I was off book. When it came time for the big show, I’d get butterflies before I went onstage, but it was more from excitement, the thrill of going out onstage and making the audience laugh (and boy did I made ’em laugh). I knew my stuff backwards and forwards, inside and out, so that when, in one of my performances, I botched a line, I quickly was able improvise and get back on track.

I need to get to that same point with the law. I need to know my case through and through, backwards, forwards, inside out, so that when I am presented with a question that could throw me off, I know how to adapt to the situation and turn it to my advantage. I thought I was there today; I had written out my arguments, I knew the cases, and rehearsed what I planned to say in my head. But it clearly wasn’t enough. Writing out what I’m going to say just isn’t enough for me, I don’t think. I think I need to speak it. The more I become familiar with doing things this way, the more comfortable I’ll be with it. Then my practice will make perfect.

I hope.


5 Responses to “Practice Makes Perfect?”

  1. 1 WK October 15, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Mr. Pope, I have seen you in both faux-ttorney situations you mentioned above and you do just fine when you get rolling. I don’t think it’s your knowledge that’s an issue – it’s your improv skills. The situations you’re beating up on yourself for are heavy on improvisation, and I think that skill does take a lot of imperfect practice.

  2. 2 TJH October 15, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    I certainly relate to you experiences, and the good thing is most in law school do as well. You’re not alone in your sentiments. I agree with you that more perfect practice plays a role in becoming the best possible communicator and advocate you can be, but one thing you can’t ignore is that experience also does. Repetition and exposure bring about the greatest comfortability and confidence, much more than any amount of practice on your own can. Enjoyed your post and keep up the good work.

  3. 3 pbpope October 15, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Thanks. I’m not really beating myself up here, just looking at the overall situation, and trying to learn from it. I guess what my drama example was trying to say was that the more knowledge you have on a situation, and the more practice you have, the easier it is to roll with those punches and improvise.

  4. 4 Jeremy Masten October 16, 2009 at 6:07 am

    If it makes you feel any better, you’ll get lots of practice in PC.

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