October 29, 2009

C-SPAN's Supreme Court Week videos

If you missed any (or all) of C-SPAN's "Supreme Court" week programing earlier this month, fret not: You can watch the programs on C-SPAN's website.

Of particular interest to you advocacy professors will be the October 8 program titled "Attorneys Who Have Argued Before the Court," where several lawyers talk about the experience of preparing for and arguing before the Court.

Also check out the October 6 episode, "Clerk of the Supreme Court William Suter." Simply put, General Suter is a national treasure. I had the pleasure of meeting him several years ago when the Fort Worth Federal Bar Association brought him in to speak and swear our members in to the Supreme Court Bar. At that meeting, he pleaded with us that if we were ever in Washington, to call him several weeks before so he could arrange a personal tour of the Supreme Court building. Sure enough, about a year later, my wife and I were going to D.C. to visit my sister. I called General Suter, who not only happily delivered on his promise, but also expedited my wife's application to the Supreme Court Bar so that I could move her admission before the full Court. Although I'll likely never argue an actual case before the Supreme Court, I can at least say that I've put both hands on the rostrum, looked the Chief Justice in the eye, and delivered those immortal words, "Mr. Chief Justice and May it Please the Court."

And I have General Suter to thank for that experience of a lifetime. He's an amazing human being with an indescribable love for the Court and its building.

October 28, 2009

Justice Thomas doesn't like oral argument

A few weeks ago I posted about how, if early indications proved true, the addition of Justice Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court could result in more questions being asked during oral argument. But Justice Clarence Thomas doesn't like that possibility one bit. During a speech at the University of Alabama School of Law, Thomas apparently criticized his brethren (although none by name) for blabbing too much during lawyers' "time before the court" (there's a subtle shout-out to my friends at South Texas College of Law).

Saying that most judges make up their minds about a case by reading the parties' briefs beforehand, Thomas said, "[s]o why do you beat up on people if you already know? I don't know, because I don't beat up on 'em. I refuse to participate. I don't like it, so I don't do it."

The notoriously quiet Thomas also denied that the justices could effectively use oral argument as a means to sway each other. "All nine of us are in the same building," he said. "If we want to sway each other we know where we are. We don't need oral arguments to do that. It doesn't make any sense to me."

October 27, 2009

Bad Advocacy - Vol. 2

The second entry in our continuing "Bad Advocacy" series belongs to lawyer Orly Taitz (whose, name, when I look at it quickly, always appears to me as "Taly Ortiz" until I focus on it for a few seconds). Ms. Taitz is a so-called "birther," or one who doubts that Barack Obama is a natural-born citizen of United States. If you're a fan of law books and the Constitution swathed in a wavy American flag, click here to check out "Dr." (she's apparently also a dentist, but I'm no anti-dentite) Taitz's website.

Taitz has filed at least three different lawsuits on behalf of U.S. servicemen and servicewomen challenging their deployment orders to Afghanistan and Iraq. Her argument, in essence, is that the deployment orders are invalid, having been issued by a man who is not constitutionally qualified to occupy the Commander-in-Chief role.

These cases caught my eye several months ago given their relationship to this past year's ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition problem. That (fake) set of facts involved a challenge by United States congressmen to the President's blatant disregard of a statute directing him to withdraw all troops from the Iraq-like "West Baltizstan." The first issue in the case was whether the congressmen even had standing to bring the suit, and one of the questions that invariably came up in oral argument was whether the suit would have been better brought by a solider with deployment orders.

Any-who, Taitz's advocacy skills wore thin on United States District Judge Clay Land, who, on October 13, sanctioned Taitz to the tune of $20,000. The opinion is a must-read, but this was my favorite part, especially from an oral-argument standpoint:

In the midst of a jury trial of another case, the Court nevertheless rearranged its schedule, along with the schedules of jurors and other attorneys, so that Captain Rhodes’s matter could be heard during an extended lunch break. ... Instead of arguing pertinent legal authority supporting her position, counsel reverted to “press conference mode,” repeating political “talking points” that did not answer the Court’s questions or address the Court’s concerns. Specifically, counsel was unable to explain why this Court should not abstain from deciding this case based upon well-established precedent, and she was unable to articulate clearly how the alleged cloud” on the President’s place of birth amounted to a violation of her client’s individual constitutional rights. Rather than address these two important questions, counsel retreated to her political rhetoric. When the Court admonished her for not addressing the legal issues presented by her Complaint, counsel accused the Court of unfairly badgering her and implored the Court to ask Defendants’ counsel questions instead of her. Ms. Taitz’s performance confirmed to the Court that her focus was not to pursue a legitimate legal cause of action to obtain relief for her client but was to use the Court to force the President to produce a “birth certificate” satisfactory to her and her followers. Her other purpose appeared to be to use litigation as a means of drawing attention to her political agenda. During the hearing, Plaintiff’s counsel threatened that if she did not get the opportunity to obtain the relief she sought (discovery of a birth certificate), then a wave of subsequent similar actions would be filed in this Court until she obtained what she wanted.


Yeah, that's good strategy. I may impart that on my students. "OK -- if you don't know the answer to a judge's question, go 'Taitz' on him: Accuse him of badgering you, tell him to ask questions of the other side instead, and then threaten to bury the court's docket in further frivolous filings if he doesn't let you argue what YOU want to. That ought to win you some points."

October 26, 2009

Fordham outguns Faulkner at Lone Star mock trial showdown

Fordham University School of Law was named champion at the Lone Star Classic mock trial competition held October 15-17 at St. Mary's University School of Law. Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law finished second at the 16-team tournament, while Villanova University School of Law (last year's champ) and Texas Wesleyan University School of Law were semifinalists.

Faulkner has a website write up here. Texas Wesleyan has one here. The final round can be viewed on St. Mary's website here.

October 14, 2009

Practicing law? There's an app for that...

If you're like me and have an ongoing love affair with your iPhone, check out Jonathan Frieden's E-Commerce Law Blog post today, titled "A Dozen iPhone Apps for Lawyers." There's one in particular I recommend for you advocacy coaches out there: TripIt (actually, you can use TripIt whether you have an iPhone or not, but the app is pretty cool). The website provides a really easy (and totally free) way to prepare itineraries for trips. As I book travel arrangements for my teams and receive e-mail confirmations from airlines and hotels, I simply forward those e-mails to TripIt, which recognizes my e-mail address and then plugs the info into custom itineraries. I then manually add specific information about the competition (round times and locations, etc.) and give the itinerary to my students in one handy-dandy document that contains everything they need to know about the upcoming trip.

Feel free to share (via Comments) any apps or websites you've found helpful in the advocacy arena...

October 8, 2009

Supreme Court gets hotter

I'm not talking about aesthetics, although the thought of John Paul Stevens in a Speedo just gave me the giggles (others of you probably had a different reaction to that mental image). No, I'm talking about the amount and degree of questioning from the bench -- you know, "hot bench" versus "cold bench"; lots of questioning versus little or none at all.

If First Monday was any indication, the addition of Sonia Sotomayor makes the high court a little livelier. As the ABA Journal points out, the newest Supreme didn't waste any time jumping into the fray. She even asked more questions than Antonin Scalia in the first hour.

I was reminded of myself when I got to this part of the story:

Sotomayor’s questions sounded as if they were formulated by a prosecutor or trial lawyer, according to the NLJ story. She made declarative statements about some aspect of the case, and then asked, “Correct?”

I've gotten better in that regard when judging practice rounds or competitions, but I still have an unfortunate Sam Donaldson-esque tendency to just bark out a declaration, often prompting the student to look at me with a "I'm sorry, was there a question in there?" face.

October 7, 2009

Regent tops at National Pretrial Competition

Regent University School of Law won the second annual National Pretrial Competition this past weekend. The eight-team competition, which is co-sponsored by Stetson University College of Law's Center for Excellence in Advocacy and the Florida Bar's Young Lawyers Division, is sort of a mix of moot court and mock trial. Teams file briefs on a pre-trial motion and then argue the motion orally at an evidentiary hearing. Chicago-Kent College of Law finished second, Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center (last year's champ) took third, and Atlanta's John Marshall Law School came in fourth place.

Regent also won Best Brief, while its own Jerry Harris claimed the Best Final Round Advocate award.

Regent's website write up is here; LSU's is here. Stetson's summary is here.

October 6, 2009

Stetson dishes the 411 at Marshall

Stetson University College of Law claimed the top prize at this past weekend's John Marshall Law School International Moot Court Competition in Information Technology and Privacy Law. Loyola University New Orleans College of Law finished second at the 26-team competition. Northern Illinois University College of Law and Michigan State University College of Law were the semifinalists, while the University of Pretoria Faculty of Law (South Africa) bested Gujarat National Law University (India) in the vague and perpetually unexplained Ambassador Round. This marks the second-straight Ambassador Cup for Pretoria.

Loyola New Orleans won the Best Petitioner's Brief trophy; South Texas College of Law won the corresponding Respondent's Brief award. M. Colby Gunnels (whose incredibly awesome name must have been ripped straight out of a Chip Hilton book) of Texas Wesleyan University School of Law won Best Oralist.

Full results, including competition pictures, are here. For those who want more specifics, scores are here.

October 5, 2009

Strategies for Coaching Moot Court Teams webinar

I had meant to post this a few weeks back, but it somehow fell through The Bench Brief's otherwise impenetrable cracks. This Wednesday (October 7) at 3 p.m. EST, Stetson University College of Law's Project for Excellence in Legal Communication is hosting a web-based seminar titled "Strategies for Coaching Moot Court Teams" as part of its Virtual Legal Writing Conference. The webinar, moderated by Stetson's Stephanie Vaughan, will feature Stetson's Michael Allen, Colleen Barger from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law, and the great Mary Beth Beazley (whose excellent "A Practical Guide to Appellate Advocacy" I use to teach my Appellate Advocacy course) of THE Ohio State University Michael E. Moritz College of Law.

The program's description:

Many legal writing faculty, as part of their law school service, coach moot court teams. But, success does not come easy in the world of competitive oral advocacy. This session features successful moot court coaches sharing their strategies for preparing law students for moot court success.

The show is free for all law school faculty. An ".edu" e-mail address is necessary to register. If you're interested, conctact Kirsten Davis at kkdavis@law.stetson.edu to register.

Texas Tech takes NLLSA crown

Texas Tech University School of Law won the second annual National Latino/a Law Student Association Moot Court Competition, held September 24-25 in Chicago at NLLSA's yearly convention. Columbia Law School finished second at the 12-team tournament. Yale Law School was credited as the third-place team; a second team from Columbia was the other semi-finalist.

Texas Tech also won the Best Petitioner's Brief award, with Chicago-Kent College of Law claiming the Best Respondent's Brief. Andrea Contreras of Columbia's semi-finalist team took home the plaque for Best Oralist of the preliminary rounds, and Sam Webb of Texas Tech won Best Oralist of the Final Round.

No definitive word yet on the location of NLSSA's conference next year, but sources tell me it's between New Haven, Connecticut and Austin, Texas.