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Court is Not Adjourned: OU Law Holds Moot Court Online

Court is Not Adjourned: OU Law Holds Moot Court Online

Screen of OU Moot Court on Zoom

Every spring, first-year students at the University of Oklahoma College of Law participate in an annual law school rite of passage: the 1L Moot Court Competition.

This year, with classes and events shifting online, so did the competition. Instead of gathering in Coats Hall to present oral arguments of a hypothetical appeal to the Supreme Court, students used video conferencing to argue their cases from their homes, with practicing attorneys and faculty members tuning in to serve as judges.

Over a span of three and a half weeks, 164 students and 65 attorney judges participated in 138 rounds of competition – all on Zoom or BigBlueButton.

Professor Connie Smothermon – director of competitions, assistant director and assistant professor of legal research and writing, and director of externships at OU Law – said the requirement to present oral arguments is part of the Legal Research and Writing curriculum, a foundational course for all first-year law students. Smothermon said providing that skill training for students was critical, even if it meant having to do it virtually.

“Moot court provides students with the opportunities to learn how to structure arguments, speak persuasively, answer questions quickly and become effective oral advocates,” she said. “Additionally, students learn to crystalize the issues from their written briefs, which helps them improve their writing. Law students need to develop these skills. We did not want to lose the chance to provide a venue for the students to have these opportunities.”

For the 1L Moot Court Competition, law students are given a different fictional case each year. This year’s case involved a First Amendment issue about free speech and a Fourth Amendment issue regarding the search of a vehicle. Students are paired up and work together to learn both sides of the case – they must be able to argue either side, often at a moment’s notice.

Last week, the tournament culminated in the final round of competition. The two remaining teams of four students and six judges met in a Zoom courtroom before an online audience of students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Jessica James Curtis and Mikaela Barns represented the petitioner, and Tina Cannon and Robert Rembert represented the respondent. The final round judges were Vice Presiding Judge Dana Kuehn, Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals; Judge Patrick Wyrick, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma; Special Judge Emily Mueller, Lincoln County District Court; Mike Hunter, Oklahoma Attorney General; Mithun Mansinghani, Oklahoma Solicitor General; and Katheleen Guzman, OU Law Interim Dean.

A video of the entire final round is available here.

As one of the 1Ls who made it to the final round, Rembert said competing online was a beneficial experience.

“While competing in a video format did present unique challenges, such as the occasional lag in video feed or disruption in sound quality, overall it was a very positive experience,” Rembert said. “Everyone, both competitors and judges alike, were forced to adjust to a unique format together, which helped to ease nerves and make it feel like more of a conversation about the issues.”

To accommodate the virtual format, Smothermon said most of the rules of the competition remained the same, but a few adjustments were made. For instance, judges were instructed to use an online score sheet, and the number of judges was reduced in some of the rounds. Normally, the final round has a panel of nine judges.

Smothermon noted that the OU Law Board of Advocates, the student organization that coordinates intra-school and inter-school oral advocacy competitions, played a significant role in making sure all students and judges felt prepared for the format change. Board members held training sessions and online practice rounds, and they set up a helpline for judges to use if problems arose during competition.

Rembert said the skills he gained through moot court will benefit him throughout law school and into his future legal career.

“This experience has taught me that oral argument is not a ‘you have it or you don’t’ type of skill,” he said. “I received feedback from numerous judges throughout the competition that helped me improve from one round to the next.”

Smothermon said the virtual competition was beneficial for many.

“This experience far exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I think we all learned some skills that I hope we continue to use in some way in the future.”


By Melissa Caperton


Article Published: Wednesday, April 22, 2020