Moot court offers trial run for law students

Thirty-five GW Law School students participated in the school’s annual Van Vleck Constitutional Law and the national Giles Rich Intellectual Property Moot Court Competitions Saturday.

“It’s a really great opportunity,” said David Sheppard, vice president of the Moot Court Board. “When we spend a lot of time being lectured in classrooms, seldom do we have the opportunity to argue issues in a realistic setting.”

A moot court is a practice trial for law students in which a three-judge panel of D.C. attorneys and law school alumni listens to 20-minute arguments from student attorneys. The trial resembles an appellate court hearing because no witnesses testify.

Competitors must write a 12-page appellate brief, which accounts for 40 percent of their score. The remainder of the score is based on their skills during the debate.

“It takes a phenomenal amount of preparation,” said third-year law school team winner Matthew Hank.

The Van Vleck tournament began with 84 teams last week but was narrowed down to two teams Saturday by a pool of 18 judges.

This year’s Van Vleck problem involved a constitutional challenge to an Internal Revenue Service regulation that took away the tax exempt status of a religious group that opposed a candidate running for office, said third-year law student Janet Shih, Moot Court Board president.

“What we looked for was an issue that has not been decided by the Supreme Court,” said Peter Midgley, a third-year law student who wrote this year’s Van Vleck problem and won last year’s GW Moot Court championship.

The third-year law school team winners, Kerri Ruttenburg and Deana Cairo, and second-year law school team winners Hank and Andrew Nietor will compete in the finals next spring in the Marvin Center.

“In the past we’ve had Supreme Court Justices judge the final round of the competition. Last year, we had Justice Antonin Scalia,” Shih said. “The winning team goes to regionals against other schools. In the past, we’ve done well and last year two teams advanced to the Northeast regionals and won. It’s more substantive than college mock trial.”

“It really teaches you how to make a good appellate argument,” Nietor said.

Sheppard said GW’s moot court program is different than the programs at other schools.

“For one it’s by sheer number of participants, because we have about 120 students involved,” he said. “But we also have four in-house competitions and one for first-year students.”

In addition to the Van Vleck tournament, law students also participated in the Giles Rich tournament Sunday, in which participants argued about an appellate hearing on patent infringement on mango-shaped ukuleles.

Finalist teams David Milligan and Steve Maslowski, and Michael Casey and Jill DiMello will represent GW in the regional Giles Rich competition.

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