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Recent grad argues appeals case

February 9, 2015 | Alumni

After a mere two months of practicing law professionally, recent graduate Jonathan Olivito ’14 was given the kind of opportunity even the most seasoned professionals pine for – the chance to argue an appeal in front the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals last month.

Olivito first joined Dahman Law, LLC as a law clerk in October 2013, during his final year of law school at Moritz. Dahman Law was founded in 2011 by Samir Dahman ’07, an adjunct professor at Moritz who, prior to starting his own firm, worked at Bricker & Ecker and Thompson Hine LLP. Olivito is currently one of three full-time attorneys at Dahman Law (Kessia C. Cericola LLM ’12 is also a Moritz grad).

“From the get-go, Samir has thrown me into the thick of things. My first assignment was to draft a memo opposing the application of a contract’s arbitration clause,” Olivito says. “Because we’re a smaller firm, it means that I have a lot of responsibility on my shoulders, drafting documents for a large number of projects. Most of them are going to the court and some of them are going to the clients.”

After passing the bar exam, Olivito was promoted from law clerk to full-time attorney at the firm in November 2014. One of his first assignments was to write an appellate brief for a case involving the appeal of a favorable jury verdict on behalf of Dahman Law client RAE Associates, Inc.

In this case (No. 14-AP-482), after a week-long trial, a unanimous jury awarded RAE Associates $41,727.61 on its breach of contract complaint against Nexus Communications, Inc., while also rejecting Nexus’ claim for $652,112.08. Nexus first objected to the jury’s findings by objecting to the magistrate’s decision and filed a motion for a new trial with the trial judge. When it lost on both of those, Nexus appealed to the 10th District Court of Appeals.

Olivito’s brief ended up being about 60 pages-long. “It was a lot of work but it was really interesting,” he says. “Aside from participating in moot court arguments and the Herman Competition in law school, I hadn’t done anything like that before.”

He says the training and confidence he gained through moot court, along with the writing skills he perfected in Professor Mary Beth Beazley’s Appellate Advocacy class, helped prepare him for the work involved in the RAE Associates case, from researching the standards of review for each of Nexus’s claims to writing his oral arguments.

“What I learned in my Appellate Advocacy class ultimately helped me draft my delivery in this case,” he says. “In Appellate Advocacy, you’re writing mock Supreme Court briefs, but either way, because of that course, I knew that there are specific procedural and formatting requirements that you need to fulfill for your brief. I knew the kind of time commitment that was involved, not only for drafting the legal arguments, but for preparing a statement of the facts, a statement of the case, a table of contents, and a table of authorities.”

In addition, Olivito says that the legal research and writing courses he took as a 1L at Moritz taught him how to structure a cogent argument, and working as an articles editor for the Ohio State Law Journal helped him quickly identify effective legal writing. When it came time for Olivito to give his oral argument to the court in January, he drew on what he learned in his law classes for inspiration.

“Because a lawyer only has 15 minutes in front of the judges, it’s important to focus your argument on only the most important issues,” he explains. “It’s also important to establish a connection or a degree or rapport with the judges by maintaining eye contact throughout the argument, exhibiting a calm demeanor, and generally knowing the material thoroughly, in order to respond quickly and effectively to any questions.”

“Before the argument, Samir and I had a run-through. I gave a mock argument and Samir acted as the judge, and by the day of the argument I was pretty confident that I knew the material and the case law, and could respond to almost any questions that the judges might ask. I knew that I could rebut each of the points that Nexus would make,” he says. “That preparation, in conjunction with the knowledge and experience I gained through my classes at Moritz, all came back to me and contributed to my ability to make a convincing argument in court.”

What surprised Olivito most about arguing in front of the judges, he says, was his lack of nervousness in the moment.

“When I got in front of the judges, I was initially nervous, but within 30 seconds of talking, Judge William A. Klatt asked me a question and at that point I felt at home,” he explains. “It’s funny how it is during an oral argument. You’d think that the prepared portion – where you are essentially reciting what have memorized – would be the least nerve-wracking. But when the judges asked questions, that’s when I was most comfortable, because it turned from a presentation into a conversation.”

Olivito and his colleagues won’t hear the result of the case for several months, but, in a press release, Dahman says that he believes the court will find in favor of client RAE Associates, and that Olivito “was prepared, eloquent, and cogently responded to the judges’ questions.”

“I never would have thought that I’d be able to go in front of the 10th District Court of Appeals within two months of becoming a lawyer,” Olivito says, with a smile. “I thank Samir for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to prove myself.”

Beginning in the fall of 2015, Olivito plans to clerk for Judge Edmund Sargus, Jr., a federal judge serving on the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, for one year.