On January 22, Fordham Law’s Dispute Resolution Society (DRS) Domestic Arbitration teams advanced to the National semifinals and then won the 2020-2021 American Bar Association (ABA) Arbitration Competition for Law Students. The team of Margaret Revera ’22, Joshua Zelen ’22, Catherine Young ’22, Perry Zirpoli ’22, and Ksenia Matthews ’22 are the 2020-21 National Champions. They beat Texas Tech University School of Law, the defending champions, in the final round of the competition. The team of Zoe Buzinkai ’22, Haley Johnson Griffin ’22, William Delaney ’22, Joshua Wexler ’22, and Dayana Ledezma ’22 placed in the semifinals.
Fordham earned the opportunity to compete in the National Competition after entering two teams in the Regional Competition hosted by the University of South Dakota Law School in November 2020. Both teams won their preliminary and semifinal rounds and competed head-to-head in the Regional Competition’s final round, earning both Fordham teams a spot at the National leg of the competition. Over 280 students from 28 different law schools competed in the Regional Competitions for a spot at Nationals.
At Issue: A Thorny Contract Dispute
The problem tackled by the students involved a contract dispute between a new homeowner and a home warranty company. The homeowner made a claim under a purchased warranty to make repairs on a bathroom for damage caused by structural defects. The homeowner sought reimbursement for the repairs and damages for bad faith. The warranty company denied coverage and made a counterclaim for defamation. The teams began preparing arguments for both sides guided by Professor Deborah Masucci and student coach Emily Entwistle ’21. The students presented a full arbitration case, including opening statements, witness examinations, introducing evidence and exhibits, and closing arguments. The competitors practiced before Fordham alumni, professors, 3L DRS members, and professional arbitrators in order to develop these skills and perfect their cases.
Professor Masucci reflected on the students’ achievement: “When preparation started in August 2020, none of the students had taken an arbitration course. They received crash lessons in arbitration rules, procedures and advocacy. Their understanding of the nuances between trial advocacy and arbitration gave them an edge over other students who approached the competition as if they were in court. The students also had to learn how to effectively present a case virtually—something practicing lawyers and arbitrators were only just learning themselves.”
Masucci added: “The students rose to the occasion mastering the virtual platform, learning the arbitration process, and effectively advocated on both sides of the problem. They worked collaboratively and adjusted their arguments each round. The students are well prepared to offer future employers their practical experience.”
Perseverance Pays Off
Student Coach Emily Entwistle ’21 applauded the Fordham Law teams’ resilience: “I am so proud of both Fordham teams, and it was an honor to coach them with Professor Masucci. They worked for six long months on this problem. Their hard work, dedication, and skill shows in how well they fared in the competition. At the end of every round they received high praise from the judges on their skills and professionalism. I can’t wait to see what they all accomplish next!”