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Penn State Law students compete for moot court membership

Penn State Law students compete for moot court membership

As preseason publicity ramped up in central Pennsylvania over the last month for athletic endeavors, Penn State Law students readied themselves for a competition of their own when they faced off against one another for positions on the Law School’s Moot Court Board. Fifty-eight students competed for slots on the traveling moot court teams in the Law School’s first appellate intraschool competition.

Student competitors were given a legal problem and a closed set of cases, and assigned to represent either the prosecution or defense. Weeks of preparation culminated in a week of mock “hearings” during which competitors were judged by esteemed practitioners such as the Honorable Thomas I. Vanaskie ’78 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Honorable Al Masland ’82 of the Cumberland Court of Common Pleas, and the Honorable Renee Cohn Jubelirer of the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court, among many other excellent faculty members and local practicing lawyers. Judges Vanaskie and Masland, along with Richard Bradbury, president of Penn State Law’s Moot Court Executive Board, presided over one such proceeding in the courtroom of Lewis Katz Hall and provided feedback to the aspiring advocates.

Run entirely by students and supervised by resident faculty member Professor Beth Farmer, the newly-minted Moot Court Board provides uniformity in the selection and preparation of students who will represent the Law School in moot court and oral advocacy competitions nationally and internationally. Student competitors are evaluated based on two components scored using a standardized rubric – a writing sample and the oral argument. The teams are then populated with the top-scoring advocates.

Feedback on the experience

“The experience of preparing for an oral argument before a panel of judges was a great opportunity to test my analytical thinking abilities,” said second-year law student Christopher Ryder. “Public speaking can be intimidating, but it is a relatively small part of the process compared to the hours of preparation that go into a ten-minute argument.”

“You both certainly knew the case law well and had a strong presence. I don’t know whether a memo went out about having to have tie clasps but they held your ties nicely,” Judge Masland quipped to the competitors. “You had a little nervous smile at the end, when you realized ‘yeah, the guy did stab him twice.’ You have to try to hold your composure a little more, even when it’s a tough point to argue,” Masland said to one defense advocate.

Judge Vanaskie took time to address a common advocacy slip-up for one new advocate. “The only major faux pas that I saw was when you said the victim didn’t lose a lot of blood. You caught yourself, but once it’s out some judges would jump all over you on a slip like that. Other than that, you presented a well organized and respectful presentation.” He went on to commend both the “prosecutor” and “defense” for their participation. “It shows you have a great interest in the law and in bettering your litigation skills,” he said.

“Having real-life judges to argue in front of was daunting, but the takeaway was extremely valuable. Not only was their feedback helpful for future arguments, but the fact that I have one argument before a U.S. Court of Appeals judge under my belt feels like an accomplishment in itself,” said Ryder.

Ryder’s “opposing counsel,” second-year law student Sebastian Conforto, echoed his sentiments. “While somewhat intimidating, it was an incredible experience to appear before actual judges and hear their comments on our strengths and weaknesses.”

“Our first intraschool competition has given us a chance to see tremendous advocacy by Penn State Law students,” said Bradbury. “We are excited about the prospect of fielding some of the best moot court teams in our school’s long history.”

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