First-year Students Demonstrate Their Advocacy Skills in LAWS Competitions
They researched, wrote and practiced. They competed and advanced. And then they put on their most professional attire to argue, negotiate and present their cases to esteemed local, state and federal jurists. Southwestern's first-year students completed their intramural advocacy competitions in a gracefully choreographed, three-ring legal circus.
The culminating activity of Southwestern's unique three-track Legal Analysis, Writing and Skills (LAWS) program enabled first-year law students to participate in and receive recognition for excellence in appellate (moot court), negotiation, or trial advocacy. Prominent members of the bench and bar served as judges for the final rounds in all three tracks.
Following two mandatory LAWS rounds, a total of 251 students out of 375 went on to the intramural rounds: 105 for moot court, 99 for negotiation, and 47 for trial advocacy. The top oralists and writers from those respective competitions are eligible to interview for membership in the Moot Court, Negotiation and Trial Advocacy honors programs.
During the Awards Banquet on April 9 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel, where many of the winners were announced, Vice Dean Austen Parrish praised the participants. "Southwestern is the only law school in the country to offer a three-track LAWS program. All of the students were simply extraordinary in their competitions," he said. "It is evenings like this that make us as professors proud to call Southwestern our home."
Harout Dimijian won First Place Oralist in the Moot Court Competition. "The competition was incredibly challenging and became more difficult as the rounds progressed, particularly because my opponents were so well-prepared and the judges asked ever more probing and difficult questions," Dimijian said. "I never imagined I would have the opportunity to argue a case before such a distinguished panel of judges at this point in my law school experience, so to find the confidence to make a difficult winning argument before these judges and to receive their insightful feedback was an unforgettable and educational experience."
Alexis Diamond earned the Second Place Oralist title, a particularly outstanding achievement because she studied in the Negotiation track and had to participate in the initial rounds of that competition before switching gears and entering the Moot Court competition. "I had an amazing LAWS professor, Professor Graver, who helped me prep for the competition with a couple of practice rounds and tips on the organization of my argument," Diamond said.
Isaiah Costas-Barofsky and Sheila Shah (who also studied in the Negotiation track) were Semi-Finalist Oralists. Quarter-Final Oralists included Jennifer A. Brody, Dorian R. Herrera, Mark C. Humphrey and Jeffrey W. Poole. Benjamin A. Sampson was named Best Overall Oralist of the preliminary rounds. In the writing portion of the competition, Jared W. Olen won First Place Writer, while David J. Carroll, Susan E. Carroll and Daneen A. Furr earned Second, Third and Fourth Place Writer honors, respectively.
This year's moot court problem focused on whether the experiences of a 14-year-old girl sold into marriage in India, who was abused by her husband and then sold to a human trafficker, satisfied the requirements for granting asylum under United States law. An immigration judge denied her asylum application. The Court of Appeals was asked to decide whether his decision should be affirmed or whether a petition for review should be granted.
"The seriousness of this year's topic and its realism helped students understand the importance of the skills they are applying in the intramural competitions," said Professor Tracy Turner, Director of the LAWS Program. "It is so impressive that our 1L students can navigate such a rich and complex body of case law and demonstrate their phenomenal analytical skills under the high level of pressure these competitions create."
In the Negotiation competition, the team of Jordan Oslin and Michael Worth won First Place. Second Place went to Yonit Ibrahimian and Jessica Merrick. Sarah Nazari and Max Wellman earned Third Place, and Daniel Dib and Emily Plungy placed Fourth.
"The final round was a very complicated problem and each team in the final four demonstrated why they deserved to be there," Associate Dean Nyree Gray said. "I was really impressed with the talent displayed by all of the teams. Jordan and Michael just continued to get better round after round."
The problem these students argued involved the negotiation of an employment contract between BioE, a biotechnology firm, and Dr. Ludwig Von Hodgens, a prominent viral researcher. BioE was looking to hire Dr. Von Hodgens as the Lead Scientist at BioE's United States location. Dr. Von Hodgens was a citizen of Germany and needed a visa in order to work in the United States. The parties were asked to negotiate Dr. Von Hodgens' salary, relocation costs, and contract duration. In addition, the most pressing issue for the students to work out was what work visa would best meet both parties' needs. The students were required to master the requirements and benefits of several visas in order to determine which one met their clients' needs.
According to Professor Cristina Knolton, who established the Negotiation Honors Program at Southwestern with Dean Gray, "The performance of all students at the competition was outstanding. Each team demonstrated a different approach to the negotiation, and the individual approaches were each effective. Jordon and Michael stood out from the rest because they were able to think on their feet and react quickly to their opponents' arguments."
In the writing portion of the competition, Maryam Jafari and Danielle Pittsenbarger were both named Best Brief Writers.
In the Trial Advocacy competition, Jahmy Graham won Best Advocate and Michael Morse earned Second Place Advocate. The two finalists had the unique experience of presenting their case before a distinguished final bench made up of the top prosecutors in Los Angeles - Hon. Steve Cooley, Los Angeles County District Attorney; Hon. Carmen Trutanich, City Attorney of Los Angeles; and Hon. André Birotte, Jr., United States Attorney for the Central District of California.
"You two are excellent participants," DA Cooley told the finalists. "This was a close one. It came down to the closing arguments."
The student advocates argued an assisted suicide case, in which a doctor/scientist was charged with aiding an ailing woman, stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS).
"Because we had to prepare and argue both sides - Defense and Prosecution - the most important thing I did was to fully embrace the possibility that either side could be right," Graham said. "Given the quality of competitors and the prominence of the presiding jurists, it felt amazing to hear my name announced as the overall winner. I was, and remain, deeply humbled by the experience and this great honor."The Trial Advocacy Semifinalists were Ashley Fetyko and Michelle Henderson. Quarterfinalists included Arlene Agbulos, Story Cunningham, Andrea Friedman, and Anastasia Sagorsky. In the writing portion of the competition, Best Brief Writer honors went to Story Cunningham and Brooke Huley.