With Help from JAG Coaches, Students Find Success in Moot Court Competitions
Thanks in part to the addition of coaches to the extramural moot court program, students are celebrating success in recent national competitions. Second-year law students Dave Mroz, Jon Ganter, and Jon Lucier recently won the International Trademark Association Saul Lefkowitz Moot Court regional competition in New York and will advance to the national finals March 24 along with three other teams from across the country. Second-year law student Ryan Faulconer won "best oralist" Feb. 23 at the Vanderbilt First Amendment Moot Court, the premiere moot court of its kind in the country.
Extramural Advocacy Team coordinator Adam Gordon believes the efforts of several Judge Advocate General School students who for the first time are coaching extramural moot court teams have contributed to the teams' success. The JAG students, who serve as professional lawyers with the Army and are earning their master's degree in law at the neighboring Army JAG School, have coached the National Trial Advocacy Team for several years. But this was the first year JAG students also coached the Extramural Moot Court team, which focuses on appellate moot court competitions.
"For years and years there was a coaching gap," Gordon said, explaining that schools with teams that do well over time usually have good coaches or give students course credit for coaching.
This is the first year coaches for both teams are also receiving course credit for their efforts. JAG attorneys Choi and Brown coached Faulconer and teammate Justin Torres; Daniel Sennott and Jeffrey Mullins coached Ganter, Mroz, and Lucier. Twenty JAG lawyers in all are coaching Law School teams. Although the military justice system is different, the basics of winning a case are the same: studying applicable laws, developing briefs, and making good oral arguments.
"The best part of the experience was being able to work with two advocates from the JAG School," said Ganter. His team benefited from three weeks of regular meetings to practice oral arguments, with their coaches bringing in different JAG officers to judge and offer feedback. "They really prepared us well," Ganter said. "Having the opportunity to work with them will definitely bring me back again [next year]."
"By the end of the process they were really, really sharp at asking tough questions," Lucier said.
"It gave me a lot of confidence going into the competition," Mroz added. "We went in there feeling confident and knowing we'd been through a lot with them already." The team agreed their coaches had put in more than one credit of work.
Mullins and Sennott, both majors in the Army, competed in moot courts as law students at Illinois and Arkansas. In the Army, Sennott served as trial counsel for three years and as a supervisor of other JAG attorneys, working on cases ranging from attempted murder to drug use. Mullins worked in civil litigation as a plaintiff's attorney and defense attorney before joining the military, where he worked as a prosecutor and defense counsel at Fort Leavenworth, home to the Defense Department's largest maximum security prison.
"Our team's success is certainly based more on the individuals. They are great students, and they did a great job," said Mullins. "We provided them with some direction, but they were the ones that really succeeded."
Sennott focused on coaching the students on their legal arguments, while Mullins concentrated on style and persuasion. "They had a very, very good written [brief]," Sennott said. For appellate cases, as opposed to jury cases, "your arguments are going to be a lot more concentrated in the law."
"The guys on the team did a great job of preparing," Mullins added. "We could tell they had practiced between our meetings as well."
Both coaches traveled to see their team compete Feb. 24 in New York City. The students argued on a case involving erratic publicity in which a defendant alleged the plaintiff was using his identity inappropriately without consent. The competition included teams from 12 East Coast states and Washington, D.C., but as part of the rules, participants kept their school's identity secret until the results were announced.
"It was a really well run competition and a great topic," Lucier said.
Mroz, Ganter, and Lucier will compete next on March 24 in Washington, D.C. Although the judges' identities are secret, last year they included a panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the court that decides patent and trademark appeals.
Faulconer, who competed in the Saul Lefkowitz Federal Trademark Law Moot Court last year, where his team won second place overall and best oralist, is president of the National Trial Advocacy Team and has competed each of the last two years in the National Trial Competition. He also is the head coach of the defending national champion UVA undergraduate mock trial team, which recently qualified two teams for Nationals after winning five of seven invitational tournaments this year.
The Vanderbilt First Amendment Moot Court competition this year focused on a hypothetical case involving commercial speech, specifically attorney advertising. Teams of student advocates from 35 law schools argued both sides of complex legal issues involving whether a state regulation of lawyer ads is constitutional.
"My partner, Justin Torres, and I both have an interest in constitutional law generally. More specifically, the First Amendment is an easy topic to find interesting when you consider how much you have civil liberties and state regulation concerns clashing in a context that often involves a great deal of passion and even requires a willingness to fight for ideas you find abhorrent," Faulconer said. "The competition itself is rated as one of the best moot court competitions nationwide. I also feel like the 'specialized' competitions are better because you learn more about one given topic and because the people running them often treat the competition as if it's the biggest event of the year for them."
Faulconer credited Torres and coaches Doug Choi and Will Brown with helping him claim best oralist honors.
"We had four scrimmages where we ran through the arguments, and they were all very instrumental in picking out my flaws and helping me improve," Faulconer said. Also, "Coaching [the undergraduate team] for 15-30 hours a week also improves my own skills immensely."
The coaches offered comments on briefs and asked other JAG students to offer feedback at scrimmages.
"I think I did a good job communicating to the judges that I believed in my case on each sideâthat I was an 'honest broker' who was being straightforward about the case law, but that I also was passionate about my side," he said. "More than anything, however, it's all about just having a conversation with the Court and responding to their questions thoughtfully."
Faulconer had a taste of success early in the season; he competed at the White Collar Crime Invitational at Georgetown in November, with teammates Gordon and first-year law students Mike Thompson and Daniel Burgess, where he won an award for being the top overall oral advocate at the competition.
Other students finding success in competitions this term include:
- First-years Michael Akavan and Jay Anderson and second-year Mark Zaruba, who placed second in the Sutherland Constitutional Law Moot Court competition. In the final round they argued before judges from the Ninth Circuit and from the Military Court of Appeals, along with Justice Stephen Breyer's brother, who is a district court judge.
- Second-year Tim St. George, who received the Fourth-Best Advocate Award at the Luke Charles Moore Civil Rights Moot Court on March 3.
- On the trial advocacy side, at the AAJ Student Trial Advocacy Competition, second-year Kate Skagerberg and first-years Stephen Anthony, Amy Saltzman, and Jane Lee finished in second place March 3, narrowly missing advancing to nationals.
About a third of the Law School participates each year in the school's own William Minor Lile Moot Court, but the extramural moot court teams still attract about 50 students and the trial advocacy teams include 20. Moot court options outside the Law School allow students to focus on an area of law they're interested in, Gordon explained; Lile's competition is different every year and the area of law can change during different rounds. National moot court competitions also promise frequent contact with the federal judges and renowned law professors who judge the events.
"These competitions try to outdo each other for the name-brand judges they get, which is great for the students because they get to argue in front of distinguished jurists," Gordon said.
Gordon also praised third-year law student Eli DeJarnette's leadership as chief justice of the Moot Court Board, which governs all the teams and runs the Lile competition. "He's been instrumental in helping us get funding from the Law School Foundation," Gordon said.
Gordon was pleased with the increased role of the JAG School coaches. "Without their coaching, we wouldn't be half as successful as we are," he said. "They're really incredible lawyers."
Sennott and Mullins said they both enjoyed meeting the law students and interacting with the Law School community.
"It gives law students an opportunity to see what Army lawyers do," Sennott said. "It's great to be able to provide some understanding of what the military is doing and the importance of our mission."