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棒球与法律 The Lawyer and the Layman/Pseudo-Lawyer in Up for Grabs

     In the documentary Up for Grabs, the plaintiff Alex Popev was so obsessed with the case that he “played lawyer the whole time.” Although the documentary portrays these lawyerly endeavors as comedic, Popev’s role in the case prompts us to compare and contrast the layperson’s lawyering endeavors with the lawyer’s, and in turn draw some preliminary lessons about the American legal system in relation to the individuals involved. This paper argues that Popev, even as a person with no legal training who uses common sense to guide his pseudo-lawyering attempts, approached the case in similar ways as a lawyer. This illustrates commonsensical elements of the American legal system. Meanwhile, the main differences between the layman and the lawyer’s approaches in this case underline the values of a rigorous legal education.

     We may start by examining the surprising number of similarities between Popev’s pseudo-lawyering strategies and legal professionals’ “real” lawyering strategies from a procedural angle. Firstly, Popev contemplated whether or not he would file a lawsuit. This is a natural prelude to legal proceedings, where the first step a lawyer takes is determining whether the correct remedy to the problem is a lawsuit.

     Secondly, Popev gathered witnesses, video tapes, and other evidence that could potentially prove his self-claimed “possession” of the baseball. This parallels legal professionals’ gathering of evidence from similar sources. 

     Thirdly, Popev voiced a willingness to negotiate possible settlements with the defendant before furthering the legal actions he would take. Although he did not “get a beer and talk” with Hayashi due to both parties’ unwillingness to compromise, this step does parallel certain elements of the professional lawyering procedure where both parties would initially seek negotiation or mediation before going into an expensive and time-consuming legal battle in court. 

     Last but not least, we may note that through several rounds of appeals efforts, Popev demonstrated perseverance and an almost-combative commitment to fighting on—much like the baseball players who started this drama in the first place…And, indeed, much like litigators who go step by step in advancing their clients’ interests before giving up, even when confronted with defeat at various stages: from pre-answer motions to dismiss, to original and renewed motions for judgment as a matter of law, to motions for new trial for relief from a final judgment, to the last appeal.

     These similarities suggest to us that the American legal system was founded at least partially on commonsensical grounds, for the layman’s natural instincts to fight for himself align fairly well with the formal legal procedure. If this is the case, then, why do we need legal professionals, and what is the value of a rigorous legal education?

     There are clear distinctions between Popev’s legal strategies and legal professionals’ that illustrate the important role lawyers play in the system. First, Popev failed to see both sides of the argument and did not want to consider his opposing side’s position. In an adversarial legal system such as the United States’, anticipating counterarguments is a crucial skill without which it would be especially difficult to win a case. Second, Popev lacked knowledge of legal precedents, rules, and frameworks of thinking that he could not easily learn despite his enthusiasm in “playing lawyer.” 

     A specific example illustrates both points: as much as Popev believed himself correct in claiming “possession” of the ball, he failed to acknowledge that the term “possession” is not clearly defined. Even though in its everyday usage, “possession” seems easy enough to understand, its legal precedents complicate the picture. For instance, wildlife hunting cases from the nation’s early legal history that presented differing notions of possession, such as Pierson v. Post, still impact court rulings today. While Popev stood firmly in his position that the ball belonged to him because he caught it first, in Popev’s pseudo-lawyering process, he did not consider seriously Hayashi’s view that the person who had ultimate control over the ball would instead be the proper owner. A lawyer in this case would line up case law with both sides’ arguments to draw specific reasons why the court should favor Popev’s arguments over Hayashi’s.

     A third factor that distinguishes the lawyer from the layman concerns the role of emotions. Unlike a lawyer who serves as an outside mediator between the two opposing parties, Popev was sometimes too emotionally involved in the case to think rationally. His own narrative often featured near-laughable instances of exaggeration that facts could not confirm (e.g. “[Hayashi] bit me [like a baby]”). Ultimately, his story was not a happy one partly due to his lack of self-restraint. Popev’s unwillingness to embrace defeat warns aspiring lawyers that when a case is closed, we should put it to rest without excessive emotional battles no matter how attached we are to the case, given countless hours of hard work.

     All in all, the similarities and differences we have observed between Popev’s pseudo-lawyering and professional lawyering strategies award us with several key takeaways. First, on an optimistic note, the American legal system shows the democratic promises that molded the judicial branch in the first place by mirroring many commonsensical elements of how a layperson without formal legal training may do to further his own interests. Second, this analysis highlights the value of a rigorous legal education and presents some of the objectives that we should hold dear to our hearts as first-year law students that extend beyond black-letter law.

 

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