Engaged to Marry, Richards and Bielawski Also Team Up to Win Lile Moot Court Competition
Engaged couple Kevin Richards and Grace Bielawski, third-year students at the University of Virginia School of Law, won the school's 85th Lile Moot Court Competition on April 5.
"If you're going to be spending 10 to 12 hours a day together, or several days in a row for that two-week period of brief writing, pretty much every minute together, your partner has to be somebody you can enjoy working with," Richards said.
The Lile competition is an annual UVA Law tradition that starts with a field of about 80 students in two-person teams, writing briefs and arguing student-written problems before a mock federal bench, which in later rounds includes actual state and federal judges. Over the course of the participants' second and third years, the field is whittled down until two teams meet in a final round in April.
Richards and Bielawski defeated fellow third-years Kelsey Jones and Hunter Kendrick during a final argument before judges Raymond Kethledge of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, Amul Thapar of the Eastern District of Kentucky and William Mims of the Virginia Supreme Court.
The final round problem involved whether the warrantless search of an arrested person's cell phone was constitutional, or at least admissible in court, under the search incident to arrest or inevitable discovery doctrines. Jones and Kendrick represented the petitioner, arguing against such searches, while Richards and Bielawski represented the government's interests as the respondent.
"My thought was, how am I going to argue this, because everyone wants privacy on their cell phones, right?" Bielawski said. "It seems to violate common sense in a way, so I had to rely on the law."
The winners had fellow law students moot them, or practiced on their own, before the actual competitions — nine times before the semifinals and 22 times in anticipation of the finals.
"I think Hunter and Kelsey were the other team that prepared like we did, and it showed," Bielawski said. "Their advocacy at the finals was incredible."
The judges gave high praise to all of the participants, but praised in particular the tight case that Richards and Bielawski prepared.
"The word that describes to me your brief and your argument is 'disciplined,'" Mims said. "And that's what I would expect from the government."
The judges said the brief's summary of the argument tipped the scale in favor of Richards and Bielawski.
In preparing the final brief, the couple said they each found topics of personal interest to research, then deferred to the other as the expert on the topic when it came to the writing, which they later honed into one distinct voice.
"Before the finals we had been separate with the editing, but this time we wanted to make sure the entire brief sounded the same," Bielawski said.
"Because we had the other person to point out the holes, we could make our arguments that much stronger," Richards added.
But the students said it wasn't just their ability to work well together that contributed to the win. They credited classes such as Hallmarks of Distinguished Advocacy, taught by Bob Sayler and Molly Shadel, and Criminal Investigation, taught by Anne Coughlin, as being pivotal. Bielawski also said Professor Charles Barzun helped improve the clarity of her writing the most, and Richards said Professor Toby Heytens helped him with both legal writing and oral argument.
Richards and Bielawski met as first-years in the same section. Both had an interest in public speaking that began in undergraduate competitions. Their personalities were a fit, and they soon began dating.
But when it came time to partner for Lile in the spring of last year, a friend warned them that a potential break-up could ruin their chances in the competition.
"I said, 'I'm pretty confident,'" Bielawski recalled. The two got engaged in September.
Following graduation, Richards and Bielawski plan to relocate to Washington, D.C. Bielawski will clerk for Judge Roy McLeese of the D.C. Court of Appeals. McLeese previously served as chief of the D.C. U.S. Attorney's Office, Appellate Division, where Bielawski aspires to work one day as a prosecutor. Richards will clerk for Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia for a year, then for Judge Alan D. Lourie of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. Richards hopes to become a litigator at a law firm eventually.
The couple, who share a love of arguing, ironically manage to see eye to eye on almost everything.
"Preparing a moot is a tumultuous process in the sense that we'll think, 'oh, our side is so strong' as we're looking at the case law," Bielawski said. "And then we'll find another case, and we'll think, 'oh my gosh, our side is ruined.' As we're doing our research, it's sort of this —"
"Rollercoaster," Richards said.
"It's a rollercoaster, yes, that's the way to describe it," Bielawski agreed.