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Students head to Houston for national championship

January 2, 2014 | Students

Three students from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law will make history this month when they take part in the Andrews Kurth National Moot Court Championship.

This is the first time Ohio State law students will participate in the prestigious championship, held Jan. 22-25 in Houston. Only 16 schools receive an invitation, based on the performance of their moot court teams the previous academic year.

Moritz had a banner season in 2012-13, with teams bringing awards home to Columbus from 12 of the 15 moot court, trial, and negotiating competitions they participated in across the country. The University of Houston Law Center’s Blakely Advocacy Institute, which hosts the national competition, ranked Moritz’s moot court program as No. 12 in the country in 2013.

“Obviously we’re very excited about the national competition in Houston, but we don’t know entirely what to expect,” said Monte Smith ’90, assistant dean for academic affairs and the coach for the team heading to the national championship. “I think the people we’re sending are going to be really good. We’re putting our best foot forward.”

Two team members, 3Ls Lisa Herman and Jim Saywell, earned points at competitions last year that secured the college’s spot at the national championship. Saywell was a member of the Constitutional Law Team, which was crowned national champion at the Sutherland Cup, the oldest moot court competition in the country. Herman and her partner won the “Best Brief Award” at the Wechsler National Criminal Law Competition, and she personally was named “Best Advocate.”

The third member of this year’s national championship team is 3L Colin Kalvas. He was voted “Best Oralist” in the 21st Annual Herman Moot Court Competition, an annual intraschool competition that tests the appellate advocacy skills of 2Ls. Saywell was named overall winner in that competition, in addition to being a finalist in the intramural James K.L. Lawrence Negotiations Competition in 2012 and 2013.

At the upcoming Andrews Kurth National Moot Court Championship, the team faces two issues. The first is whether the case they received has experienced final agency action and is therefore ripe for judicial review. The second issue involves administrative and environmental law and whether the Department of Defense, as a federal agency, needs to issue an environmental impact statement, in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, for hydraulic fracturing on a decommissioned military base it leases to a private company.

Herman said the team has spent “hundreds of hours” preparing for the national championship, which includes a brief submitted in November and oral arguments in January. Herman said she feels confident about the strength of the team’s brief, which became better through every revision as each team member found ways to improve the argument and the writing itself.

“Some teams overlook the brief, resting instead on their oral arguments,” Saywell said. “But our team made the brief a focus point of our fall semester, and we hope it will propel us to success in Houston in January.”

The team also is reaching out to professors, law clerks, practitioners, and other students to practice their oral arguments and receive constructive critiques. Smith said this is an important part of preparations because team members must be prepared to argue either side of the case as they hopefully advance through rounds of the competition.

“They are so motivated that they are lining up lots and lots of practice arguments on their own,” he said.

While competing against the best moot court programs in the country is an exceptional learning opportunity, the teammates are unanimous in saying the experience of preparing for the upcoming competition already has proven invaluable.

“I could not hope to gain any more from this experience than I already have: Colin and Jim have taught me a great deal about writing and editing, and I could not have asked to work with two more capable people,” Herman said.

Even though Kalvas plans to practice in a transactional setting, the moot court experience has offered an “unmatched opportunity” to improve his communication skills, he said.  “Moot court is the best way to learn how to write and argue,” Kalvas added.

Saywell stressed how honored he is to represent “the school I love” and views it as an opportunity to give back to his college and state.

“We have the unique chance to help improve the reputation of Ohio State Law, a chance I value greatly,” he said. “To all faculty, staff, students, and all others associated with The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, know that we will give it our all. Come Jan. 25, 2014, we hope to bring back the national championship trophy for Ohio State.”