With Fordham’s Moot Court Program, disagreement pays off.
Last fall, Fordham’s Moot Court team almost achieved perfection. Team members received a nearly perfect score (97 out of 100) to win the Best Brief award in the regional finals of the National Moot Court Competition, where they captured the regional championship and all the other major awards. Later in the academic year, team captain Amanda Meinhold ’16 with fellow members Kimberly Greer ’16 and Emily Vance ’16 emerged fourth out of 158 competing teams from across the country in the national rounds of the competition.
In moot court, students engage in simulated court proceedings, which usually involve drafting briefs or bench memos and participating in appellate arguments. Moot court asks competitors to produce written and oral presentations, focusing on the application of the law to a cutting-edge legal issue, known in competitions as “the problem.” Students participating in moot court are divided into teams that then compete in intraschool and interschool contests throughout the academic year.
Vance, who took home Second Best Oralist last fall (her teammate Greer won Best Oralist), had also won the Scribes award for Best Brief in 2015 with teammate and former interschool competition editor Molly Webster ’16. “I learned a distinctly Fordham moot court style of brief writing, which is concise and persuasive—one that anticipates the other team’s arguments,” Vance says. “The ability to approach an issue analytically from both sides has been important training for me.”
Law Firm Boot Camp
Maria Marcus, Joseph M. McLaughlin Professor of Law Emeritus, has moderated the Moot Court Board and coached the interschool teams since 1979. During that time, she has seen the popularity of the group explode. “As we started winning more competitions, the number of students increased vastly,” Marcus says. “Nothing breeds success like success!”
“Moot court at Fordham is like law firm boot camp,” says Jim Zucker ’97, president of the Law School’s Moot Court Alumni Association. “It provides phenomenal training. The lesson to express a thought with economy is a great lesson for any young lawyer to learn.”
Having led the alumni association for almost 20 years, Zucker notes that moot court has had a profound impact on his personal and professional lives. Every spring he assembles past and present moot court team members (mooters) for the annual dinner and awards. He also helps raise funds for the David D. Wallerstein Moot Court Scholarship, which was launched in 2005 by a generous 1953 alumnus.
Most students discover moot court in their 1L Legal Writing course, which introduces the development of appellate briefs and arguments. Some seem naturally attracted to litigation, as Palmina Fava ’97 discovered when she was a student. A partner at Paul Hastings LLP, Fava notes that her personality is particularly fitting for the rigors of moot court. “I am uber-competitive,” she states. “By nature I’m someone who challenges things.” Fava served as the interschool editor on the board in her last year as a student. This past April, she was honored with the Distinguished Alumnus Award at the annual moot court alumni dinner.
The public speaking component of moot court can be a bit intimidating for some students, including the group’s current interschool editor, Konstantinos (Kostas) Skordalos. When a moot court team came to his Legal Writing class in his first year, he was terrified by the prospect of oral argument. Skordalos was nonetheless intrigued and sought to quietly contribute to the group. Two upperclass competitors convinced him to interview for a competition spot on a team, which (to his initial unease) he won.
In a typical moot competition, each side has two speakers. Each speaker argues for 10–20 minutes and covers two to three issues. In larger moots, teams may have to speak in up to 10 rounds, including rebuttals, and teams almost always have to switch sides throughout. Skordalos spoke for a harrowing 22 minutes during his first argument.
“Because of my moot court competition experience, I now have an oral argument style that responds quickly and efficiently,” he says. “Moot court has also motivated me to pick some fun classes outside the core. For example, as a result of the problem given to me in the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition, I took a maritime law class.”
As interschool editor, Skordalos oversees all interschool competitions, coordinates travel to and attends competitions, and provides feedback to mooters. The interschool editor also helps write bench memos, 30- to 40-page documents that outline the argument to aid alumni, federal and state judges, and moot court members who judge practice rounds.
In all cases, mooters past and present have credited moot court with vastly improving their writing skills. Marcus notes that moot court can also be helpful for employment prospects.
“Many hiring partners are seeing now that the applicant who has done moot court is not only skilled but also has gone through the rigorous discipline necessary to become a better writer and thinker,” she says.
Having dedicated hundreds of hours to writing, editing, and rehearsing oral arguments during their law school years, many moot court alumni feel that they are well-positioned in the first few years of their practice. These past mooters frequently give back to the program long after they have graduated. They return to judge practice rounds, advise current team members, and cheer for them at competitions.
For 3L Danielle Lawrence, moot court provides networking opportunities that are particularly useful for students from outside the New York City area. As the group’s current managing editor, Lawrence coordinates with external audiences for all competitions hosted by Fordham.
Fellow 3L Talia Fiano says, “The opportunity to work so closely with strong writers and oral advocates was a big reason why I wanted to be editor-in-chief this year. I made friends that I continue to learn advocacy skills from.” In leading the moot court members, Fiano helps Lawrence and Skordalos arrange intraschool and interschool competitions, coordinates practice round judging and advising with alumni, and serves as the primary point of contact for various moot court issues.
Zucker believes that moot court raises the profile of Fordham Law. “It trains a generation of lawyers on how to make oral arguments.” Many mooters feel that moot court was the defining experience for them at Fordham. More than an ad hoc academic exercise or onetime extracurricular, moot court helps students develop skills that they then put into practice as soon as they graduate from Fordham.
A Marcus Moot
A member of the Moot Court Board revealed that Marcus sometimes conducts moot court sessions out of her own apartment that, it turns out, houses a panoply of moot court memorabilia. Marcus, however, needs no physical reminder of her 37 years of accomplishments as moot court moderator; she has an elephantine memory. She can rattle off the winners of the 1996–1997 National Tax Moot competition and their respective awards as easily as she can recall the names of the award winners who swept the 2013–2014 George Washington National Security Competition. Her memory of the law, and her ability to recall arguments, is renowned among the mooters she has coached for over three decades.
In listing the achievements of past competition winners, Marcus often does not disclose her own storied achievements. In 1981, her first class of students bestowed upon her the Law School’s Eugene J. Keefe Award, presented to the person who has made the most important contribution to the School in a given year. In 1997, she was named the Joseph M. McLaughlin Professor of Law, and four years later, she was awarded Teacher of the Year. In 2011, she received the Dean’s Medal of Recognition from then Dean Michael M. Martin. As he presented her the medal, Martin said of her, “She insists…on excellence. Thus, she is doing more than preparing her students for moot court competitions; she is preparing them to be great lawyers—Fordham lawyers.” In those same remarks, Martin joked that “after this presentation, we will have run out of awards to give her.” Martin was not quite right. Earlier this past April, Marcus received the Louis J. Lefkowitz Award from the Fordham Urban Law Journal during its annual alumni banquet.
Marcus has a reputation as a vigorous and engaged coach. She moots every team at least twice before each competition. Fiano says, “You don’t know if you’re any good until you’ve had a Marcus moot.” In teaching brief writing as in oral advocacy, Marcus carefully dissects arguments, reveals their weaknesses, and proposes ways to strengthen them. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has described an oral argument as a conversation between knowledgeable people. Marcus agrees wholeheartedly with the justice’s statement and coaches her teams with that philosophy in mind. “Students are surprised to learn that arguing should be fun,” she says.
Marcus is perhaps most pleased by the sense of community that Fordham’s moot court program engenders. While many 1Ls describe the difficulty of meeting anyone outside their section, 2Ls in moot court feel a much deeper sense of connection and camaraderie among their fellow mooters. “It creates a very significant bonding memory for students, and they want to come back as alumni,” Marcus observes. “For example, in 2016 we had 125 alumni who returned for the annual dinner. It’s such a lovely event, and it’s really great to see how they relate to each other.”
Marcus believes in the litigation experience and networking opportunities that the program provides. “After moot court, students feel so much more confident as litigators,” she says. She is especially “dazzled” by the editorial boards and the culture they have created and sustained. “They are at work all the time. As successive boards come into place, they are told by their predecessors what the stakes are and the board has to be game for it. They are very proud of what they do.”
This sense of pride is a feeling strongly shared, particularly as the mooters speak about their admiration for their longtime coach. Fiano states concisely one of the main reasons Fordham Law’s moot court members demand such excellence: “We all want to make Professor Marcus really proud.”
Story by Ruth Adams, banner photograph by Robert Essel