Appellate Advocacy at the Law School

Congratulations to the students in Appellate Writing and Advocacy, who are turning in their final briefs today.  This moment is a good one to reprint an article that Emily Lonergan, the Chief Justice of the Moot Court Board, wrote for the most recent De Novo newsletter.  De Novo is the publication of the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Appellate Practice Section.  The Appellate Practice Section is active, and De Novo is a good source for news, information, and tips about appellate practice.  This article is reprinted with permission.

Marquette Helps Students Master the Art of Legal Writing, by Emily Lonergan, 3L

Marquette University Law School presents students with the opportunity to master the art of appellate advocacy in both the classroom and the courtroom.

The typical law student hoping to participate in Moot Court starts with an Appellate Writing and Advocacy course, offered to second- and third-year students during the fall semester. While the course is open to everyone, regardless of their interest in the Moot Court program, it is a prerequisite for anyone who hopes to compete in a national competition. The goal of the course is first and foremost to teach appellate advocacy. It teaches students in a traditional lecture format everything from preserving the record to when to file notice of appeal.

But the course also has a hands-on approach as well. Students receive a problem before the first class even begins, and throughout the semester they take a shot at both written and oral advocacy by preparing appellate briefs and oral arguments. Just as in traditional moot court form, students work in partners throughout the semester. Each student works on one of two issues, and they develop the theme and the other parts of the brief together. Each team has an individual conference regarding the brief with the professor teaching the course, to aid them in the learning process. The students also participate in small group discussions during the class, to brainstorm and help articulate their thoughts on the brief.

Around the time of their individual conferences on the briefs, the students begin learning the art of oral advocacy. This aspect of the course starts with lectures, so that the students can learn the basics. Each team is then paired with a third-year moot court student, who works with them during the remainder of the semester as their coach. The goal of the coach is purely to help develop the form and style of oral argument. During class, the students present a portion of their argument to the class and receive feedback from the group. The students also have the opportunity to meet for practices with the professor and with other teams and coaches. Finally, at the end of the course, the students must present their oral argument to a panel of judges. They are timed and the judges interrupt with questions during the argument, just as if the students were in front of a true panel of judges. How the students score on their briefs and their oral arguments constitute their grade in the course.

The students who score in the top twenty percent of their class are then invited to participate in the Jenkins Honorary Intramural Moot Court Competition during their second semester. This exclusive competition offers the best students from the Appellate Writing and Advocacy program an opportunity to compete in an additional competition before competing in national competitions during their third year. The Jenkins Honorary Intramural Moot Court Competition was started during Dean Kearney’s tenure as dean, and the invitation to participate is rarely turned down. The students in that competition lose some of the teaching tools they were afforded during Appellate Writing and Advocacy, namely the individual brief conferences and the ability to discuss the issues with classmates and friends before the briefs are turned in. Each pairing of students in the competition receives two third-year coaches to help them prepare oral arguments.

The competition mirrors a national competition. Each team submits a brief, which is then graded anonymously by various attorneys and faculty members who volunteer their time. Each team then participates in three preliminary rounds, where the brief score constitutes half of their score for that round, and their oral argument score counts for the other half. Local attorneys step up to help judge the end result of each team’s hard work in oral argument practices. After each round, the judges’ scores are taken to the scoring room, where they are combined with the brief scores to determine a winner. The teams are power-matched in successive rounds. Four teams advance from the preliminary rounds to the semi-final round, and two of those teams advance to the final round. With students, family members, and faculty members (and even Dean Kearney) observing from the gallery, the final round competitors present their arguments in front of a distinguished panel of judges. Last year, the judging panel consisted of Judge Diane Sykes of the Seventh Circuit, Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit, and the Honorable Charles Clevert of the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

Any students who competed in the Jenkins Honorary Competition are eligible to run for the Moot Court Executive Board, and are automatically eligible for the Moot Court General Board. The Executive Board consists of six positions, each of which is filled by a third-year student. This year’s Executive Board includes: Peter Diercks, Association Justice of Administration, Meghan Risser, Associate Justice of Education, Sarah Knutson, Associate Justice of Intramural Competitions, April Ashby, Associate Justice of National Moot Court Competition, Kevin Terry, Associate Justice of National Competitions, and I serve as this year’s Chief Justice. The General Board is comprised of approximately twenty third-year students. These students coach the Appellate Writing and Advocacy second-year students, as well as the students involved in the Jenkins Honorary Intramural Competition, and they assist with bailiffing competitions and assisting the Executive Board.

Regardless of whether a student participates in the Jenkins Honorary Competition, the General Board, or the Executive Board, students who completed the Appellate Writing and Advocacy course are eligible to compete in National Competitions during their third year. This year, Marquette University Law School has forty-six students competing in competitions around the country. Teams compete at locations as far east as Boston, MA, and as far west as Malibu, CA. Several students this year will be hoping for the home-court advantage, competing right here at MULS. Marquette is a regional sponsor of the National Moot Court Competition, and two MULS teams of three will be battling for first with other top schools from the Midwest.

These students, along with all students competing in national competitions, receive both a faculty advisor as well as an alumni coach (abiding, of course, by the individual rules of each competition). Each team is assigned issues to appeal and a specific side (known in oral argument as the “on-brief” argument). Each team is required to attend a mandatory writing seminar to serve as a refresher on written advocacy. The team then submits a brief to the competition and begins with oral argument preparation. Between the contacts made by the faculty advisor and the alumni coach, the students set up numerous practices with faulty members and local practitioners. For instance, I am competing in the National Criminal Procedure Tournament in San Diego, CA from October 28-30, along with my teammate, Sarah Knutson. Between our faculty advisor and our alumni coach, both of whom have done an excellent job with setting up practices, Sarah and I will have given our argument in front of approximately twenty faculty members and local practitioners.

The Moot Court Program at MULS offers students countless opportunities to begin to master the art of appellate advocacy. From our third-floor office in the beautiful new Eckstein Hall, we are always looking for new ways to expand upon those opportunities. (And, as a shameless plug, we are always looking for the help of practitioners to aid us in judging competitions and helping teams prepare for national competitions!)

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