March 24, 2008

Law students perform well in moot court contest

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — Two teams from the Southern Illinois University School of Law made strong showings at a recent civil rights moot court competition at the University of Minnesota Law School.

Third-year law students Brady L. Barke, Natalie R. Gregory and Jason R. Leonard placed third overall in the 23rd annual William E. McGee National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition. Meanwhile, second-year law students Jason M. Gourley, Brian Harvey and Seth A. Hicks made it to the octo-final round of 16. The competition was Feb. 28 through March 1.

Barke is from Pittsfield, Gourley is from Highland, Gregory is from Springfield, Harvey is from Carbondale, Hicks is from Moline, and Leonard is from Rock Island.

Forty teams representing 26 law schools nationwide competed, including DePaul University College of Law, Georgetown University Law Center, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, University of Michigan Law School, University of Oklahoma College of Law, Texas Tech University School of Law, and Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

The SIU School of Law won three of six awards at the competition. In addition to finishing third, Barke, Gregory and Leonard earned top honors for writing the best legal brief. Harvey, who is in his first year on the moot court, received the award for best oral advocate in the preliminary rounds.

"For both teams to finish in the top 16 is very impressive," said law professor Paul E. McGreal, coach and faculty adviser.

Two teams from the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law finished first and second overall. Barke, Gregory and Leonard lost to the eventual champion in a close semifinal match, and then beat the University of Wisconsin Law School for third place.

"They worked hard and really refined their skills," McGreal said. "They have grown as advocates with tremendous poise and confidence."

Students briefed and argued a pending case before the U.S. Court — Snyder vs. Louisiana — dealing with an issue of race discrimination during jury selection in the trial of a black man convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by an all-white jury in Jefferson Parrish, La. Background case information indicates the issue revolves around whether prosecutors' use of peremptory challenges constituted race discrimination. The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case in December and a decision is pending.

Students reviewed a more than 400-page record from the pending case in preparing for the competition, McGreal said. Students wrote their briefs over winter break, and spent the first six weeks preparing for oral arguments. Work on oral arguments included four practices a week for two to two-and-a-half hours, he said.

Team members spent the first few weeks focusing on going over arguments with notes to see how they sounded, McGreal said. Judges then listened to arguments and asked students questions. Oral arguments can be a window into the judges' thoughts about a case, and quick thinking and persuasively articulating your points are critical, he said.

"The thing you prepare for are the questions you receive from judges," McGreal said. "The skill of oral arguments is to be prepared in answering the questions the court will have for you."

Once teams moved into the field of 16 finalists, moot court judges included jurists from state and federal courts in Minnesota, McGreal said.

"To do well in front of those judges shows the high quality of the work and arguments the students were making," he said.

SIU law school team members received comments from several of the judges during the competition "that their level of skills of advocacy is better than many of the lawyers they see in their courts," McGreal said.

McGreal appreciated the competition format where teams receive the actual record from a pending case rather than an artificial problem to argue. That provides students "a real-life perspective working on an appellate case."