Not all moot court is adjourned; some go online


Technology is helping law students to continue to battle, argue, match wits, have at it. In a professional manner, mind you. A number of moot court competitions that used to be held in person are being held online in wake of the coronavirus outbreak.  

Take the annual Dean Dunmore Moot Competition, held by Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland.  

Just eight days before it was to start, it seemed doomed. The school and much of the nation were forced to cancel public events — such as moot court. (Even regular courts were mostly shut down, after all …)

However, thanks to the efforts of the student Moot Court Board, led by 3L Joe Shel, the school managed to run its first online Dumore Competition, coordinated between dozens of participants and judges across multiple time zones.

“Overnight, we transformed the law school to remote teaching with very few hiccups. But running a moot court competition online presents difficulties of another magnitude,” said Co-Dean Michael Scharf.

“That our students pulled this off is a testament to their perseverance and can-do attitude in these challenging times,” added Co-Dean Jessica Berg.

Other law schools have done similar online moot court competitions. Pepperdine Caruso School of Law recently held preliminary rounds of its annual first-year moot court competition via Zoom.

Pepperdine’s  Moot Court Board Faculty Advisor Professor Stephanie Williams authored a posting on the Appellate Advocacy Blog, where she offered tips on how to do a moot court competition online.

But technology has not saved the day in every case. The International Moot Court Competition on Religious Freedom to be held in Rome was canceled for instance.

“A lot of work went into preparing for this,” Rachel Palermo, a 2nd year law student at Notre Dame Law School, told a South Bend, Ind., TV station. “We spent a lot of time researching and preparing our briefs and also preparing our oral arguments and so we were disappointed that we weren’t able to perform them.”

Because a number of competitions had been canceled, two law schools, UCLA School of Law and Fordham University School of Law, stepped up to create a novel online moot court contest —the National Online Trial Advocacy Competition — which was open to students throughout the nation.

Adam Shlahet, the director of the Moore Advocacy Center at Fordham Law School, helped coordinate the opportunity and quickly developed the virtual structure for the competition. He collaborated with Justin Bernstein, director of the A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy at UCLA Law.

“Hundreds of law students across the country were devastated [by the cancelations],” Shlahet said. “They'd worked for months preparing those competitions that never happened. We wanted to do something for those students.”

Bernstein felt the same way: “I saw my own students’ disappointment at the cancellation of their tournament, and I figured competitors everywhere could use a boost right now."

The competition was impressive. Indeed, more than 170 students from 67 different law school participated. In addition, close to 400 lawyers, judges, and professors volunteered their time to serve as judges/evaluators.

The competition focused on a case that is based on the celebrity college admissions scandal, and students made videos of themselves performing opening statements as prosecutors or defense attorneys

Shlahet said it took significant effort, but was well received. “Many testimonials that it gave students a valuable exercise to focus on during a very difficult time,” he said. “Judges across the board were very impressed with the level of performance. The winners were truly outstanding.”

The first place finisher was Imokhai Okolo from the University of Akron School of Law.

Case Western’s Dunmore competition is an intramural appellate advocacy tournament where second-and-third year students compete in an NCAA bracket-style competition judged by faculty members, local judges and experienced practitioners. Nearly 40 students competed.

“I could not be more proud of the way the Board embraced that challenge and immediately started contacting alumni, appellate practitioners and professors,“ said Shell, the studnet who helped arranged it.

“We were determined to continue the Dunmore tradition. That attitude drove everything we did. But no matter how determined we were, the competition would not have happened without the support of the administration, the students and the 74 practitioners, alumni and professors who volunteered their time to judge. We held 53 total arguments over 12 days with no issues.”

The judges' verdicts?

“I was wildly impressed that the students were able to pull this off without a hitch under extremely trying circumstances,” said Eric Lavasseur of Hahn Loeser, who serves as president of the CWRU Law Alumni Association Board. “Truly, truly outstanding.”

“I thought the oral arguments in the Dunmore tournament were great,” said alumni competition judge Kevin Young of Tucker Ellis. “Other than not being in the same room together, we were able, via video, to do the exact same thing we have always done.”

One of the more celebrated moot court contest is Baylor Law School’s Top Gun National Mock Trial competition, in which the best advocates from the 16 top trial advocacy schools across the nation go head-to-head against each other.

Scheduled for late May, it will not be canceled. It’s going virtual to. This is the 11th year for the contest. 

"With so many spring competitions cancelling, it was very important for us to provide an opportunity for graduating student advocates to finish out their law school career with a competition experience," said Kathy Serr, the school's advocacy program coordinator.  

And it's going to held pretty much in the same fashion, she added. "We will use a Zoom platform for synchronous trials. Other than our competitors and judges all being in different locations there will not be any significant changes to our format: 16 of the nation's top advocates will receive the case file shortly before the first trial and try both sides of the case in front of experienced trial lawyers and judges with the winner receiving a $10,000 prize."




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