Online to the rescue II: Moot court and other extracurricular offerings

Editor's note: this is the second of a three part series. 

When the pandemic hit, much of what couldn’t be done in-person could be done virtually. Imaginations soared. Ingenuity was the spirit of the day. Laptops became the portal to a world that still offered a sense of normalcy. 

Indeed, not everything was salvaged. A number of moot court competitions were canceled, which led two law schools, UCLA School of Law and Fordham University School of Law, to step up to create a novel online moot court contest. The National Online Trial Advocacy Competition 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.

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.”

One of the more celebrated moot court contests 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.

It too went virtual last spring. 

"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.  

Students at the University of California, Irvine School of Law managed to do pro bono work remotely. And that kind of work is a priority at the school. 

During the course of their time at UCI Law, more than 90% of students partake in pro bono projects. 

Usually a number of those students volunteer at legal clinics, courthouses, and legal services offices ...

But social distancing has put a halt to that work. 

Then they got creative. This was thanks in part to UCI Law alumni who have sent over projects or worked with their organizations to find projects for current students that could be done remotely. 

Some of the work was related to COVID-19, and some was general legal casework. Regardless, they stayed true to one of the school’s key missions — giving back. 

“I am so proud of our students who have stepped up, and increased their capacity to give back to the most vulnerable communities,” said Anna Davis, director of Pro Bono Programs at UCI Law, who noted that more than 30 students took part. 

At the University of Houston Law Center, prospective students can still visit the school — virtually, of course. They can also sit in on a lecture — again virtually. 

“I am delighted that our J.D. and LL.M. admissions offices have responded so quickly to the COVID-19 crisis by providing the same high-quality service in the online world as they do in their individual in-person interactions,” said Dean Leonard M. Baynes.

And graduation?

How about having likely Democrat Presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden delivering your school’s keynote speech? He did so at Columbia Law School — virtually, of course.

Fordham University School of Law in New York held a virtual graduation that saw 2,000 people log-on. The graduating class was less was 565. 

"We are proud of our graduates and they deserved a ceremony that celebrated their achievements," said Kimathi Gordon-Somers assistant dean of student affairs and diversity. "I was especially pleased to see the support they received from their families and friends who joined from across the globe to celebrate with us. Many responded positively to the event stating it was a moving emotional event that they felt celebrated their achievements.”

Students showed considerable strength at these virtual graduations. Here’s how Alex Gerbert, 3L Class President at the University of Oklahoma School of Law put it — apparently from his apartment:

“Now this virus and its spread may have taken many things from us, but what this virus — or nothing else for that matter — can take from us is what we accomplished here the past three years.

“The view from this peak might not quite be what we imagined it would be but don’t let that take away from appreciating the distance traveled to get here.” 

Related stories:

How online education has come to the rescue


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