When the national moot court competition convenes in Arizona next month, a team from TCU will be there to argue merits of warrantless surveillance or the president’s authority of citizen detainees.
Two members of TCU’s 2013 Moot Court team have qualified to compete at the National Championship Tournament in January at the Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law at Arizona State University.
Teammates Ashley Hodge, a sophomore communication studies major, and Tim Delabar, a junior international economics and political science major, finished in the top four at the South Texas Regional Moot Court Competition at Baylor November 23rd, earning them a bid.
Moot Court is a simulation where students act as lawyers and present their arguments to defend their designated side of a hypothetical case, in front of a mock Supreme Court.
Each year a new case, which contains two big issues, is published by the American Collegiate Moot Court Association and is used for the entire year by every school that participates.
Students work together in teams of two in order to tackle the case; each choose one of the two issues laid out in the case to research extensively and later develop an argument for, said Dr. Donald Jackson, co-coach and emeritus professor of political science.
The issues presented in this year’s case involve the tracking of a person through their cell phone without a warrant, and if a president has the power to indefinitely detain an American citizen.
Each partner must study their designated issue and have their arguments researched in depth so they are able to make an argument in support of either side.
“Teams have to be prepared at all times, sometimes when we get to a tournament they won’t know which side they are going to be arguing for,” Jackson said. “They flip a coin and they will have to argue for that side.”
In addition to gaining perspective as to what law school is like, students who participate in Moot Court develop a variety of skills, useful in any vocation, said Dr. Mary Vocansek, co-coach and professor of political science.
“Moot Court teaches students not only to research court decisions, and use legal reasoning—skills that will be useful for law school and the practice of law—but also to think critically, speak well, frame arguments and think on their feet,” Vocansek said.
At competitions, teams are judged, and then ranked based off their knowledge of the case law, their presentation skills and their courtroom presence, Jackson said.
Where a team is ranked, in relation to the number of teams competing, determines if they will advance to the next day of competition.
At the Baylor Regional Competition, 20 teams competed.
After the three preliminary rounds on day one, teammates Hodge and Delabar were ranked 8th, so they advanced to the next day of competition, Jackson said.
The second day, the pair defeated the first ranked team in the quarterfinals, and then lost to the fifth ranked team in the semi-final; but, still scored high enough to earn a bid to the national championship tournament.
According to the American Collegiate Moot Court Association rulebook, a total of 80 bids to the national championship tournament are available between all of the regional competitions held across the U.S.
At the Baylor Regional Competition, only the top four competitors received a bid.
“It felt awesome to hear them call out our team as advancing,” Delabar said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to represent TCU at the highest level. Nationals should be a great experience.”
Jackson said both Hodge and Delabar made excellent arguments throughout the entire competition.
Madelyn Nelson, a senior psychology and political science major, and Lizzie Braselton, sophomore political science major, comprised TCU’s other team. They finished in the top eight at the end of first day as well, but were defeated in the quarterfinals the next day, Jackson said.
Braselton said the competition was definitely a challenge, and it came down to the judge’s preference for style.
“I had never seen a team recite an argument entirely by memory,” she said.
The experience, Braselton said, was something to learn from for next time.
“[During that round] My partner and I probably gave the best arguments we have ever given,” she said.
This being his first year on the team, Delabar said his first competition was definitely a learning experience, especially in regards to the structure; and as a result, he has drastically reworked his argument since then.
“I’ve summarized some of the arguments other schools made that I thought were strong, and incorporated them into my own,” Delabar said. “I intend to do the same with some of the arguments I heard this past weekend at Baylor.”
To be able to make a strong argument in front of the judge, it is important that you know your case thoroughly, so you are not surprised by any question you may be asked, Braselton said.
“Not getting flustered by the really hard-hitting judges when they ask questions is something that I need to improve on,” she said. “If you say one thing wrong they will ask you numerous questions about it, so learning to keep your composure is important.”
Jackson said that developing the confidence to get up in front of an audience and give a speech under high pressure is difficult, so the more practice, the better.
To prepare for the season, the team met once a week so that members had the opportunity to have their arguments critiqued by the coaches, as well as other team members.
Jackson said practice sessions would be held to help prepare Hodge and Delabar prepare for the national competition on Jan. 17-18.
A beneficial experience, no matter where you end up
TCU Moot Court alumni agree that the lessons they learned from being a part of the team continue to be beneficial in their lives today.
Ann-Marie Craig, who was a member of the 2012 team, graduated in May and now works as Senator Kelly Hancock’s campaign manager.
Craig said when she joined the Moot Court team she had every intention of attending law school. Although ultimately deciding not to go, Craig said the skills she learned from her time on the team have proven highly beneficial in her current job.
“Moot Court helped me better refine my public speaking skills, my ability to think logically and my ability to comprehend complex information,” Craig said. “Whether you work in business, medicine, or law, [these skills] are skills that will help you to succeed in your respective career.”
Taylor Thompson, who was also a member of the 2012 Moot Court team, is now a first year law-student at Baylor Law School.
Thompson said that essentially all the necessary attributes needed to be successful in moot court are pre-requisites for law school.
“Moot Court mocks the appellate court process,” Thompson said. “You stand before a panel of three judges, argue and they critique your ability to perform. In a law school environment, that is exactly what happens.”
Thompson said that being able to think quickly on your feet, and transition from point-to-point smoothly, are important skills that are acquired in Moot Court, and are necessary for survival in law school.
“If you are ‘cold called’, you have to stand up and for as long as your professor wishes, and sometimes that could be a full 50 minutes,” he said. “You are expected to be able to debate the elements of the case like you know them by heart.”
While being a part of Moot Court can be at time very “intellectually gruelling,” Thompson said the experience is worth it in the end.
What element of competition is considered the most grueling, however, depends on whom you ask.
Craig said losing was the worst part for her.
“I’m sure that sounds terrible, but I am an extremely competitive person.” Craig said. “It was tough to leave a round you felt good about, only to have the judges disagree.”
Thompson agreed that winning over the judges with your argument can be quite difficult, especially when you think you are being clever.
“I tried to incorporate a quote from Wedding Crashers into my rebuttal once, and the judges actually asked me about it, completely ruining my subtlety,” Thompson said.
Regardless of the challenges that competitors face, alumni and current members agreed that the experience is worth their while.