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Hard Work Is the Name of the Game for Emory Civil Rights Competition Team

Oct. 7, 2010

By Brittany Hardy

If the members of the Baylor Law School team headed to the Fall 2010's Emory Civil Rights Competition had not learned it already, they undoubtedly now know the benefit of patience and hard work.

When the team first met, before the competition problem had even been released to the tournament Web site, Professor Larry Bates, the team's coach, implemented a rigorous practice schedule which included writing about five drafts of the brief.

"Yes, it was really stressful to turn in five drafts of this brief, but when you look back you would have been embarrassed to turn in the first draft," said Britney Johnson, who is in her second year and competing in her first external competition. Johnson said she was "thankful" for the way Bates had pushed the team.

Johnson and her fellow teammates, Andee Hartig, Reagan Vernon and David Schlottman begin competition on Oct. 8.

For extra practice, Bates has brought in guest judges to watch and critique the team's arguments throughout preparation.

"When we started practices, we took our best stab at arguing. We'd been talking about this problem and learning the details over and over for months, so it is nice for the judges to come in with their fresh eyes and make sure we have the utmost clarity," Johnson said.

"The really cool part about it is that we get to meet a lot of people from Waco, such as the judges. On a personal level, that's been really cool. Like last week, our judge was a local attorney and the weekend before that we travelled to Dallas to Carrington Coleman, a pretty prestigious firm, and gave our arguments there," said Vernon, who will be competing in her first competition.

The addition of outside judges has proven to be challengingly beneficial to the team's progress.

"The judges can interrupt you at any time with questions and they usually have a lot of them. They're usually trying to trip you up, so that's another reason we practice a lot," Johnson said.

This particular case centers on a man in prison whose religion states that practicing men must grow beards in order to be blessed by their god. When asked to shave his (in order to comply with standards implemented to all prisoners) the man refuses and is tortured severely and ultimately placed in solitary confinement.

"Our team is civil rights and liberties, so the topic is just juicy, even to people outside of the competition," Johnson said.

Despite the "juicy" topic and the fun Johnson said she and her teammates have had in preparing for the competition, hard work has been the foundation of the preparatory process.

"We practice so much," Johnson said. "I want to do well at the competition, but I'm not even nervous, because I know there isn't anything else we could have done to prepare. That's the good thing about working with Bates."

Johnson said she respects Bates not just for the rigorous schedule he has created for their team, but for his own hard work and dedication shown in the schedule he has created for himself.

"He's just very reasonable and respectful of our time and our efforts," Johnson said, "I told him last week that it made me feel better on Saturday and Sunday when I came to the law school to do work for this competition, because I saw him get to the school at the same time on Saturday and Sunday to work on things for our team, as well. So, he doesn't ask us to work anymore than what he's willing to work."

Finally, Johnson appreciates that Bates has not tried to create a team of identical robots, but a team of individuals who excel in argument using their own voice.

"All four of us don't speak alike. Our styles are so different, but Bates doesn't try to make anyone fit in a box. He just tries to make you the best 'you' you can be and enhance your personal style. I really appreciate that," Johnson said.

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