December 30, 2008

The UH Moot Court National Championship

I've always joked that when it comes to law school advocacy competitions, "National Championships" are like opinions -- everybody's got one. Why? Well, there are so many different competitions, and more pop up every year (a trend that has no apparent end in sight), that the opportunities to win a "national championship" are seemingly endless. Heck, South Texas College of Law claims a hundred of 'em.

But as I've said several times on this blog, not all national championships are created equal. Some, given their age, size, and prestige, are due special consideration. It's sorta like the "Heavyweight belt" in boxing (and even then, there are four, which means four potential "Heavyweight champions" at any given time). Like it or not, the Heavyweight champ gets more respect than, say, the Bantamweight title holder.

In mock trial, I'd identify three "big" championships -- the Texas Young Lawyers Association's National Trial Competition, the AAJ's (formerly ATLA) Student Trial Advocacy Competition, and NITA's Tournament of Champions.

In moot court, there have been two: The New York City Bar Association's National Moot Court Competition, and the ABA's National Appellate Advocacy Competition. I can't say whether "the big two" need to add another setting at the dinner table, but the University of Houston Law Center would certainly contend as much. Last year, it announced its plans to host an annual "Moot Court National Championship." Like the Tournament of Champions for mock trial, the MCNC seeks to pit what it deems the 16 top moot court programs in the country against each other in a would-be "Battle Royale" for appellate supremacy.

The inaugural competition will take place January 15-17, 2009. I'm anxious to see how it will be received. I think it's a tremendous idea, and I congratulate Professor Peter Hoffman at UH. In particular, the methodology Professor Hoffman used to select the top 16 teams has enormous potential. Thankfully, he declined to adopt Brian Koppen's flawed system. Instead, he separated 34 competitions into three tiers -- Tier 1 (correctly) consists of the NMC and NAAC. Tier 2 is made up of the Duberstein National Bankruptcy competition, the Pace National Environmental Law competition, and the Wagner National Labor & Employment Law competition. Tier 3 consists of the rest. Teams receive more points for success in higher-tiered comps and also get credit for brief and advocacy awards. I'm particularly impressed with the decision to grant automatic entrance to the winners of the NMC and NAAC (although last year's winners -- Chicago-Kent College of Law and Harvard Law School -- would have made the cut anyway).

That said, I do have a few criticisms (big surprise, right?):

1. The event hasn't been particularly well publicized, at least not that I've seen. Even on UH's website, where one would expect the competition to be heavily featured, details are hard to to find unless you know where to look.

2. The timing is difficult. Certainly, if you’re one of the 16 schools fortunate enough to get an invitation, you’ll want to send your best team. But mid-January hardly seems like the best time -- some students will be preparing for the National Rounds of the NMC and/or feverishly finishing their brief for the ABA NAAC. That aside, you've really got to spend all of winter break practicing, which is particularly difficult if students leave town to go home. If and when my school ever gets an invitation, I’m not sure I could make it work with my best team. Early fall seems like a far better time. Teams could write briefs over the summer, and the competition could take place in mid September, well before the fall competition season heats up.

3. There's no explanation as to why Professor Hoffman chose to include results of some competitions, but not others. I'm confident there were criteria, but I'd sure like to know what they were.

4. I’m a bit concerned with the accuracy of the point totals UH used. My old school (Texas Wesleyan) finished second at the 2007 Pepperdine Entertainment Law competition. Although that competition makes Houston’s third tier, and although Michigan State got 10 points for winning it, Wesleyan received no points at all for its finish. The five points it should have been given would have bumped its ranking to 21st. Considering that the top 20 got in (after 4 teams apparently bowed out), that’s alarming to me. I haven’t checked the accuracy of any other school's numbers, but other professors have told me they've noticed some problems as well.

5. The points system (while better than Koppen's) is still pretty stiff -- no points at all unless you win or make the finals? I think schools ought to get points for quarterfinal finishes and above. In my experience, the further you get into a competition, the less difference there is in quality of teams. Ninety percent of the time, I can’t tell much of a difference between the four semi-finalists. The results will often come down to the case's merits or some other completely subjective factor. The true sign of a strong program, at least in my mind, is one that consistently makes the break rounds.

6. The teams that actually compete in this competition may not have had any role to play in getting the invitation. This seems a bit odd to me. Most of the time, a school's best mooters are 3Ls, if for nothing else than their experience. If those students win the competitions that garner the invitation and then graduate, the team actually competing in the MCNC might be unrepresentative of its successful predecessor. The same is somewhat true about the NITA Tournament of Champions, but there, the invitations are based on a three-year period. Might that be a better indication of a strong “program,” as opposed to a strong “last year”?

Despite my criticisms (which are pretty minor, I think), I'm optimistic that the MCNC will be a success. Good luck to the 16 teams competing!

December 11, 2008

SMU prevails at Thomas Tang Moot Court Competition

Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law won the international finals of the 2008 Thomas Tang International Moot Court Competition held November 21-22 in Seattle, defeating Loyola University Chicago School of Law. UC Hastings College of the Law and Fordham University School of Law were semifinalists.

The competition's Best Brief award went to Seattle University School of Law, while Best Oralist Honors went to
Nicholas Hudson of the University of Washington School of Law. Click here for a complete list of the results, including competitor names. UC Hastings's website write-up is here.

The Tang Competition, which began in 1993, is run by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association Law Foundation. This year's competition started with 60 teams spread across five regional competitions. Next year's international finals (and NAPABA convention) will be held in Boston.

December 9, 2008

The 28 national finalists for the National Moot Court Competition

Congratulations to the schools that will make up the 28 teams to compete for the national title in New York at the National Moot Court Competition February 2-5. The NMC is the oldest, and arguably the most prestigious, moot court competition in the country (Catholic University's Sutherland Cup, which was started the same year as the NMC, claims to be the oldest, but it has traditionally been an invitational and allows just eight teams to enter).

I haven't done the math in previous years, but this year's ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition may mark the first time the NMC loses the crown of the largest competition in terms of teams competing. 2009's NAAC will have 192 teams from 111 schools; the NMC has 187 teams from 126 schools. Still, the NMC--while just five back in total teams--features participation from 15 more U.S. law schools. And it must be pointed out that the NAAC allows each school to enter two teams (and this year, allowed some schools to enter three teams), while the NMC defers to the regional sponsors as to whether their own schools may enter two teams. Just 7 of the 14 regions allow it, and I have to believe that if all 14 regions permitted two teams from each school, the NMC would easily surpass 200 teams.

Anyway, without further ado, the two advancing teams from each region (along with how many teams and schools competed in that region):

Region 1 (9 teams/9 schools):
Suffolk University Law School
Syracuse University College of Law

Region 2 (12 teams/12 schools):
Brooklyn Law School
Fordham University School of Law

Region 3 (7 teams/7 schools):
George Washington University Law School
University of Pennsylvania Law School

Region 4 (20 teams/11 schools):
Duke University School of Law
William & Mary School of Law

Region 5 (11 teams/11 schools):
Emory University School of Law
Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law

Region 6 (18 teams/9 schools):
Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
Thomas M. Cooley Law School

Region 7 (11 teams/11 schools):
Loyola University New Orleans College of Law
University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law

Region 8 (15 teams/10 schools):
Chicago-Kent College of Law
Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Region 9 (16 teams/8 schools):
University of Kansas School of Law
Saint Louis University School of Law

Region 10 (8 teams/8 schools):
Baylor Law School
South Texas College of Law

Region 11 (12 teams/6 schools):
University of Colorado Law School
University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

Region 12 (21 teams/11 schools):
UC Berkeley School of Law
Stanford Law School

Region 13 (12 teams/6 schools):
Gonzaga University School of Law
Seattle University School of Law

Region 14 (14 teams/7 schools):
Drake University Law School
University of Minnesota Law School

December 4, 2008

Good primer for first-time mooters

Professor Jim Dimitri at Indiana University School of Law-Indianapolis has an excellent article forthcoming in the Stetson Law Review. Titled "Stepping Up to the Podium with Confidence: A Primer for Law Students on Preparing and Delivering an Appellate Oral Argument," it is exactly what it purports to be: A step-by-step guide for students facing down oral arguments in legal writing classes or moot court competitions.

You can download the article from Professor Dimitri's SSRN page by clicking here.

December 3, 2008

Article on Koppen/Bench Brief feud (OK, not really, but sorta)

Back in October, the publication/website Virginia Lawyers Weekly did a piece on my friend Brian Koppen's advocacy rankings system and its application to Virginia law schools. The article mentions my criticisms of Koppen's rankings, and then gets some law students and professors to weigh in themselves.

Professor John Paul Jones at the University of Richmond School of Law apparently disagrees with my complaints. He's says that as long as Koppen "can perform simple mathematical calculations, he might as well be a journalist."

Not quite sure what he means by that. As I've said several times, I don't criticize Koppen for trying. I just think his methodology is flawed and underinclusive. Sure--anyone who can use a calculator is free to come up with his own system, and I welcome him to do so. But that doesn't mean we should blindly cite to the system's results as if they're trustworthy. I think we owe it to ourselves to take a hard look at the metrics and decide whether the resulting numbers and conclusions bear any indicia of reliability. If Tom Brokaw all of the sudden decided to put out his own rankings of U.S. law schools, with the primary factor in his system being "number of llamas or gila monsters owned by each faculty member," I don't think anyone would say, "well, he's a journalist and he can do math, so get off his back."

Professor Jones also claims that I'm confused as to competition prestige. Specifically, he says:

That some competitions are better than others begs the question of what is good about a competition. In my view, prestige helps to make a competition good, but it is only one factor among several, all of which are hard to quantify. Is the best golfer in the world a better sportsman or athlete than the best bowler or skeet shooter?

Again, I'm not sure I catch his drift. I'm not saying anything about which competitions are "good" and which ones aren't. I'm just saying that, for better or worse, certain competitions are more prestigious than others. As a result, schools typically send their best teams to the more prestigious competitions, and those competitions are, in turn, harder to win. My criticism is that Koppen gives schools more points for winning bigger competitions, even though a smaller competition may be more prestigious. And in at least one ridiculous case, you would receive almost as many points for winning the Pace National Environmental Law competition as you would for winning both the ABA NAAC and National Moot Court Competition.

I'm not asking Koppen to tell me whether the world's best golfer is a better athlete than the world's best bowler. I'm just asking him to recognize that winning the Masters is a hell of a lot more important than winning the Buick Open.

In any event, I enjoyed the story, although I wouldn't equate Koppen's rankings to a "bowl system" for law school advocacy, as the author so claims. If any bowl systems do exist, they live in the form of NITA's "Tournament of Champions" (mock trial) and the University of Houston Law Center's new "Moot Court National Championship." Sometime in the next week I'll give you my thoughts on the Houston tournament...