January 28, 2012

South Texas tightens grip on rule of moot court universe

South Texas College of Law won the fourth annual Moot Court National Championship competition today, besting 15 other top moot programs for ultimate appellate advocacy supremacy.* Saint Louis University School of Law finished second at the tournament, which is hosted by the University of Houston Law Center's Blakely Advocacy Institute and underwritten by a number of law firms, including the competition's main sponsor, Andrews Kurth, LLP. Florida Coastal School of Law and Stetson University College of Law finished as semifinalists.

South Texas hoisted the Best Brief trophy above its mighty head, while Alexander Landback from the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law was declared the nation's Best Speaker.

* Yes, there is some sarcasm to my voice. I poke fun not at South Texas, who, as everyone knows, IS the Emperor of the moot court universe, whether they have a Death Star tournament trophy to prove it or not. Hats off to them for an impressive run -- they were the only team to go undefeated in the prelims and continued that run en route to the title. But having attended the competition with my own team, it was somewhat amusing to hear the UH folks talk at every turn about how this is the TRUE national championship. And, hell, it may be. The level of competition, as it is every year, was incredibly fierce.

But I'm still disappointed that Houston chooses to run a behind-closed-doors competition, as opposed to the two other "major" tournaments (the National Moot Court Competition and ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition), where transparency seems to be the goal. I don't understand why other teams' identities and brief scores, as well as round results, need to be a secret. Blakely Director Jim Lawrence has told me in the past that he believes making such information public at the outset "changes things," and while I guess that's true in some respects, we ARE talking about a gathering of the best teams in the country. Can we not assume that our students are going to bring their "A Games" every time out? If you're 0-3 heading into your last round, doesn't it stand to reason that you're going to give it all you've got to pull out at least one win? If you're 3-0, wouldn't you think you'd be just as motivated to win and capture the #1 seed?

I also fail to see why we can't use our own timekeepers, as is the case at the NMCC and NAAC. In our last round, the UH student baliffing held up a "Stop" card to my advocate who still had one minute left of rebuttal time (without holding up any other previous time card to warn him that the "Stop" card was on its way). It resulted in an awkward exchange between the judge and advocate (and ultimately a terse instruction from the judge to sit down) that was entirely avoidable.

Anyway, just some grumblings from a coach likely fueled by disappointment that his team didn't finish better. Not that anything I just mentioned had anything to do with our finish (it didn't). Most everything else at the tournament was great, including a fantastic closing banquet at Vic & Anthony's Steakhouse attended by lots of lawyers from the sponsoring firms and real judges from both Texas and federal courts -- cool networking opportunity for the students.

I hope to have the opportunity to bring a team back next year...

1 comment:

Brad Aiken, Championship Committee said...

On behalf of the Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship Committee:

We want to thank Rob for his post because it highlights one of the very important aspects of the Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship ("Championship") - our commitment to excellence in hosting a fiercely competitive moot court tournament. In pursuing that goal, the Championship format offers top schools an opportunity to compete against other top schools that achieved unparalleled success in the previous year of oral advocacy competitions. In hosting such a competitive tournament, the Championship Committee makes administrative decisions every year in an effort to create an even playing field for all teams regardless of size or resources. These decisions include discussions related to the two issues discussed in Rob's previous post: (1) the decision to withhold final results until each "break" announcement and (2) the issue to utilize in-house bailiffs.

First, the Championship Committee chooses not to release the results of each round until after each "break" announcement in an effort to promote elite level competitiveness in every round. While we understand the competitive nature of the students who compete in the Championship, we cannot ignore the psychological impact on a team of knowing it is 0-3 with the worst brief score heading into the last preliminary round. After all, the Championship teams put in too much time and preparation to compete against a team that has thrown in the towel after a couple of disappointing rounds. While the committee will definitely consider Rob's position (as we discuss this very issue every year), it bears noting that some coaches have been vocal in support of the current system. These coaches commented that they appreciate the Championship because of the completely different feel of the preliminary rounds - a feel brought about by each team feeling it has a shot all the way through.

Second, the Championship Committee chooses to utilize in-house bailiffs in an effort to provide a level playing field for all competing teams. Not all competing teams travel with a surplus of students or coaches. As such, requiring these teams to choose between manufacturing a bailiff or using their opposition's bailiff presents a unique team-specific obstacle that has no place in the Championship. The Championship seeks to remove as many team specific obstacles as possible other than talent, knowledge of the problem and preparation. Additionally, allowing teams to utilize their own bailiffs would hardly provide a fix for the occasional human error.

Having said that, the entire Championship Committee apologizes for the bailiff's error during the Championship. No one feels worse about the error than the student who made the mistake. We are constantly revising and improving our training programs for our volunteer student bailiffs in an effort to get better. We will do everything in our power to improve our process so this issue is not repeated. Importantly, we want to stress to all the competing teams that this error was recognized and dealt with swiftly before the judges recorded their scores for the round. Ultimately, this issue had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the round in question.

I want to thank Rob for his feedback and efforts on the Bench Brief. His feedback always helps to make us better which in turn provides a better experience for the students. Good luck to all the competitors in spring competitions and we hope to see many of you in Houston next year for the 2013 Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship. Should Rob or anyone else have any questions or concerns please feel free to contact me at brad.aiken@emhllp.com.