First-year Students Impress Judges at LAWS Competitions
It is difficult to believe that the articulate, poised and well prepared professionals who presented oral arguments and negotiated problems before leading jurists from local, state and federal courts only began their legal training in the last year. First-year students completed their unique intramural advocacy competitions with a level of grace, professionalism and style that has become a benchmark of Southwestern Law School.
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 188 students out of 368 went on to the intramural rounds: 82 for moot court, 65 for negotiation, and 41 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 March 31 at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, where many of the winners were announced, Vice Dean Austen Parrish praised the participants. "Southwestern is the only law school in the country to recognize the advantages of offering students the choices of a three-track LAWS program," he said. "All of the students were simply extraordinary in their competitions."
Moot Court Competition
Christine E. Polito won First Place Oralist in the Moot Court Competition, and Arya Djafroudi earned the Second Place Oralist title. "All of my rounds were incredibly intimidating," Polito said. "But once I made the justices on the final bench laugh, I started to relax and have fun with the whole process."
Judges for the final bench included the Hon. Scott Bales, Arizona Supreme Court; Hon. Louis B. Butler (ret.), Wisconsin Supreme Court; and Hon. Rives Kistler, Supreme Court of Oregon.
"It's hard to remember that you are first-year law students," Justice Kistler said. "You both did a magnificent job." Justice Bales praised the way Polito handled questions from the bench. Justice Butler was impressed with Southwestern's Moot Court Program, saying "It teaches students to develop excellent argument skills."
Leila Alemi and Christopher B. Lloyd were Semi-Finalist Oralists. Quarter-Final Oralists included Eulisha N. Eclarinal, Emma Jane Fabeck, Justin R. Felton and Lauren R. Wiedmeier. In the writing portion of the competition, Vincent D. Nguyen won First Place Writer, while Eulisha N. Eclarinal, Christine N. Wood and David Ktshoyan earned Second, Third and Fourth Place Writer honors, respectively.
At the Ninth Circuit Courthouse in Pasadena, oralists argued a case in which a plaintiff sued a magazine for publishing information without her consent about her ongoing battle with depression in an article on work-life balance among female attorneys in law firms. The magazine obtained the information about the plaintiff from a colleague and decided to portray the plaintiff as a role model who has overcome her depression to achieve great career success. The plaintiff, however, argued that the defendant unlawfully invaded her privacy when the magazine not only told her personal story but also identified her by name in the article. The legal issue was whether the information was newsworthy. The media enjoys a First Amendment privilege to publish truthful newsworthy information and, therefore, newsworthiness would bar the plaintiff's law suit. This year's moot court problem focused on arguments in an appeal from a grant of summary judgment in the defendant's favor.
"This year's program really showcased our students' advocacy skills," said Tracy Turner, Director of the LAWS Program. "Students on the plaintiff's side had a great story to tell of a woman whose most personal secret was exposed to a wide audience and who suffered severe consequences from the publication. Students on the defendant's side, however, had an equally important argument about the importance of giving the media great leeway to publish information that can benefit the public. Both sides achieved the perfect balance of facts, law and policy in their oral arguments. They represented their clients admirably and showed great poise."
In the Negotiation Competition, where students argued in pairs, Marlon Campos and Jacob Elias won First Place Advocates, and Anna Levitt and Andrew Pletcher earned Second Place. Robert Adams and Andrew Gurwell finished in Third Place, and Samantha Jackson and Nicolas Papajohn took Fourth Place. In the writing portion of the competition, Patrick Sarkissian and Jeremy Swartz were both named Best Brief Writers.
"All the teams in the finals were really talented," said Associate Dean Nyree Gray, who established the Negotiation Honors Program at Southwestern with Professor Cristina Knolton. "The judges had a very tough time choosing students throughout the competition."
Judges for the final round of the Negotiation Competition included Paul Bent '78, Chief Executive Officer and General Counsel, Goodsmith & Co.; Austen L. Parrish, Vice Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law; Neil Ollivierra '07, Vice President of Business and Legal Affairs, Lionsgate Entertainment; and Rajendra Sardesai '93, Vice President and Chief Intellectual Property Counsel, Avery Dennison Corporation.
The students negotiated a director's contract for a film produced by Drexel Entertainment. Drexel Entertainment was seeking to hire Alan Smithee, a director known for his work with computer generated imagery. The attorneys representing Alan Smithee were asked to obtain favorable terms for his development fee and contingent compensation, as well as secure a director cut and previews for the film. The attorneys representing Drexel Entertainment were asked to limit Smithee's development fee and contingent compensation and secure a waiver by Smithee of his moral rights to the film.
"To succeed, both sides were required to master specific terminology to the film industry and understand statutes underlying the moral rights to the film," Professor Knolton said. "Ultimately, all teams did an outstanding job and were able to work together to secure an agreement."
Trial Advocacy Competition
In the Trial Advocacy Competition, Sherin Parikh won Best Advocate and Vivian Rivera earned Second Place Advocate. Judges for the final bench included Ronald L. Brown, Public Defender, County of Los Angeles; Janice Y. Fukai, Alternate Public Defender, County of Los Angeles; and Sean K. Kennedy, Federal Public Defender, Central District of California.
"Every phase of this year's tryout saw marvelous presentations," said Professor Joseph Esposito, who oversees Southwestern's Trial Advocacy Honors Program (TAHP) with Professor Bill Seki. "The final round was a real nail biter and came down to a point. Both presentations were truly amazing."
The advocates argued a case where the defendant was charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend's husband. The murder took place in the evening hours near the victim's apartment in a high crime area. A witness observed a confrontation between the victim and his assailant from across the street while on the third floor balcony. Ultimately, the victim was shot and killed while his wallet was missing from his pocket. The defendant fit the general description of the assailant, had a motive to kill the victim and admitted to running into the victim just an hour or so before the murder.
Judges from the final bench commented that the finalists argued as well as seasoned veterans. "It is obvious why Southwestern is so well known for producing excellent trial lawyers," Mr. Kennedy said. Mr. Brown was equally impressed, saying. "We all hope you will come knocking at our doors when you are ready to practice law."
The Trial Advocacy Semifinalists were Brittan Cortney and Julia McGuinness. Quarterfinalists included Serena Abeyta, Arsine Grigoryan, Trevor Hunter, and Mari Kiridjian. In the writing portion of the competition, Best Brief Writer honors went to Mark Talise and Zourik Zarifian.
Professor Seki commented that "TAHP has benefitted tremendously from the three-track LAWS curriculum. We have gotten many outstanding students out of the intramural competition. And the ability to cross over [from one area of advocacy to another] for the competition is fantastic. For example, our Trial Advocacy winner this year was originally in the Negotiation track."