April 14, 2009

Full NAAC results up

The ABA has posted complete results of the National Appellate Advocacy Competition, so now you may finally quench your thirst for knowledge as to who was the seventh-best advocate at the St. Louis regional (if you must know, it was Clayton Rushing Tartt of Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, who happened to knock my team out in the national quarterfinals).

The national results made a bit more sense this year than last, although it's worth noting that the National Best Advocate (Bridget Burke of South Texas College of Law, who won with an astounding 97 speaker average) didn't even place in the top 10 of advocates at her Washington, D.C. regional. Otherwise, however, the second-through-fifth-place National Best Advocates all won speaker awards at their respective regionals. And my team's National Best Brief had placed third in its region, while the top two briefs in that region didn't make the trip to Chicago.

As I expected, the competition was incredibly well run, both regionally (we were in Miami) and nationally. The new rule change -- which provides that elimination rounds are decided by the team that wins a majority of ballots (as opposed to which team scored more points) -- actually cost my team: In the quarterfinal round against Faulkner, we won by a total of two points but lost the ballot count 2-1. I supported and still do support the new rule, but it makes losing a bit harder to swallow...

And the level of competition, I must say, was higher than I've ever seen it. Having two teams there, I was able to see parts of four preliminary rounds and two break rounds. I can truthfully say that every team we faced had the ability to win it all, and the margins of victory/defeat were razor thin. Which is how it should be, of course. But it reaffirms my belief -- particularly after taking a team to the Gibbons competition the week before and seeing eventual champion Albany argue -- that schools send their very best teams to the NAAC and National Moot Court Competition, and winning either of those two tournaments is far more difficult than winning one of the 60-or-so other competitions that take place over the course of the year.

One last thing: If you have any suggestions as to rule changes for the NAAC, this would be a good place to discuss them (some of the NAAC subcommittee members told me they're readers).

Here's one to get the ball rolling: Instead of holding a coin flip to decide which team chooses its side in the break rounds, why not simply allow the higher-seeded team to select its side? Because here's the problem: Given the elimination of the brief score from the break rounds, having a higher seed at NAAC carries no real advantage. My team was the #1 seed coming out of the preliminary rounds, but that was only so because our brief score was monstrous. We lost to #9 Faulkner -- an awesome team orally -- in the quarters. Eventual champion South Texas was the #15 seed. Last year, the final round match up was #5 Harvard Law School against #7 University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. The purpose of seeding is (or at least should be) to protect the higher-ranked teams. As it's currently set up, the higher seeds have zero advantage, and there's no incentive to capture a top seed -- it means absolutely nothing.

Incidentally, my proposal would not have made a difference for my team at NAAC -- we actually won both our coin flips and chose the side we wanted. But it just strikes me as odd that the only real advantage for the higher seed is the ability to "call" the coin flip, which, of course, isn't an advantage at all, given that a coin flip is a 50/50 proposition. The "caller" is in no better a position than the non-caller.

The "higher seed chooses" is the rule we use at the Texas state moot court competition. I've always thought it worked well -- it means teams aren't just competing for one of the four elimination round slots, but are also competing for seeding. Because if you're #1, you know you don't have to switch sides at a moment's notice for the next round.

Anyone agree or disagree? Comment below...


Anonymous said...

Not to sound too much like a "cheerleader" but I agree the coin flip to choose sides removes the advantage of being a higher seed. I guess you could say that as the higher seed you still get an advantage by drawig an allegedly weaker opponent (since they are a lower seed) but if you are a top seed because of a huge brief score and the knockout rounds do not include the brief score, then it is not a true seeding system. Actually teams who are at the bottom are probably stronger orally since they had to argue over their lower brief score. That would also explain why hardly any reginoal best brief winners are actual regional champions - they probably had a top two seed after the prelims and probably lost in the first non-brief round. That exact scenario happened to us last year in the NAAC as we were #1 & #2 in the regional brief and neither team made the regional finals.

The #1 or #2 seed might be awesome but they have probably not had a round where they felt any jeopardy starting off on top. Whereas the middle brief team is battle tested.

In trial competitions the coin flip to choose a side is just as silly. Let the higher seed get something for being a higher seed. Many of the fact patterns are lopsided and so the tournament becomes a coin flipping contest instead of an advocacy contest.

Joe Lester - Faulkner

Anonymous said...


I agree that the higher seed should get to choose a side. However, like Joe, I see another issue here that occurs occasionally with the ABA NAAC - a lopsided problem. To be sure, writing a balanced problem is very challenging, and no moot court problem is ever perfect. That being said, choosing a side would be much less determinative of success if the problem were not as one-sided as I feel this year's problem was.

Jim Dimitri
IU School of Law - Indianapolis

Anonymous said...

I would argue that protecting higher seeds isn't terribly important, but that's only because I have minimal confidence in seeding. It's impossible to realistically compare judging standards room to room or to "correct" or "normalize" something which is fundamentally a subjective evaluation at the outset. While you *may* protect better teams with a higher-seed-chooses system, you're comparably likely to just protect luckier teams.

Now, given that it's at least some part skill, some part luck, maybe that's a better system than a pure-luck coin flip to address the unbalanced problem issue. But I'm not a fan insofar as the prelim rounds become far too determinative, and for my (anecdotal) money that's where judging quality control tends to be the weakest. I somehow prefer the uncertainty in the knockout rounds, because I feel (again anecdotally) like the judging pool is better able to set aside stylistic and substantive biases to really reward the better team.

But then again, the same problem I have with prelims leads me to want more prelim rounds (and/or group systems like UEFA tournaments) and higher cut rates than the driving trend pushed by both the LSA and Blakely overvaluing large-draw (Tier 2) tournaments.

-- Not an advocacy director - just a schlub.

Mark Zoole said...

The problem did not seem to me to be lopsided at all. I counted winning sides in both regionals and nationals, and noticed no advantage depending on side. I may have missed a few, but not many. Also, in critique, I heard many judges in both regionals and nationals state they thought a particularly positioned advocate (1st pet, 2nd pet, 1st resp, 2nd resp) had "the toughest argument" on the merits,-- yet it was always a differently positioned advocate! That is much more anecdotal than empirical, of course, but I definitely heard such comments at least once applied to each different position.
I really do not care about the coin flip or higher seed picking their sides. It is not nearly the advantage, if any at all, that students seem to think it is. Half the time, I find myself hoping my kids lose their coin flips anyway since I think they're actually stronger on the side that they think they're weaker on.
Rule changes for the ABA? I can think of only two: 1) Score the briefs, both at regionals and when re-scored at national finals, to a true average (not just a mean or median or whatever the heck that half over 75, half under 75 thing would be called). 2) For cryin' out loud, let the kids move the lectern mikes up or down to adjust for their height! I know the judges do not want anything in their courtrooms moved, but surely they're more talking about chairs and tables moved around and not seriously concerned about the height of the lectern microphone!
As you can see by the piddly nature of the second suggested rule change, I think the rules for the most part are very, very good.
Zoole, WUStL