New David J. Beck Center for Legal Research, Writing, and Appellate Advocacy fields teams to compete in an array of interscholastic moot court competitions this year

This academic year, the Law School has formed strong interscholastic teams that will devote much of their winter break to preparing for five moot court competitions under the auspices of the David J. Beck Center for Legal Research, Writing, and Appellate Advocacy. The new Beck Center was launched last spring with support from David J. Beck, ’65, life trustee of the Law School Foundation and founder of Houston litigation boutique Beck, Redden & Secrest LLP. Among the Beck Center’s mandates is supporting students with a demonstrable commitment to oral and written advocacy as they travel to competitions across the country, representing the Law School in events designed to hone the practical and analytical skills essential to practicing law in any venue.

These moot court competitions simulate sophisticated appeals involving legal issues that test the boundaries of settled precedent. For these competitions, students are required to prepare and submit formal legal briefs. After weeks of rigorous preparation, students then participate in a series of oral arguments before panels of judges. As with real appellate arguments, the judges interrupt the proceeding with questions, posing a challenge—unique to the legal world—in which the presenters are expected to respond to the dictates of their audience without losing sight of the client’s cause. Advocates must be consummately prepared regarding the law, the factual record, and the compelling policy concerns on both sides of an issue. Yet advocates must also be able to improvise under pressure, maintain appropriate decorum, and respond to judges in a way that makes complex material accessible.

The five competitions in which the Law School will participate this year will showcase the talents and hard work of students and coaches with strong credentials and advocacy skills.

Students preparing for the Duberstein Bankruptcy Moot Court Competition, sponsored by St. John’s University School of Law and the American Bankruptcy Institute, are: Adam Saleh Arikat, ’13; Sarah Coleman, ’14; Marie Delahoussaye, ’14; Chris Furlong, ’13; and Jaaron Sanderson, ’13. The team is coached by Deborah Langehennig, ’88, Chapter 13 Trustee for the Western District of Texas, and Jay H. Ong, shareholder at Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr PC. This coaching team has produced two national champions for the Law School in recent years, including last year’s Duberstein champion. Professor Jay Westbrook, Benno C. Schmidt Chair of Business Law, serves as Law School advisor to the team.

Students selected for the NYU Immigration Law Moot Court Competition, sponsored by the New York University Moot Court Board, include Brittany Perkins, ’13, Nikiya Natale, ’13, and Audrey Lynn, ’14. Both Perkins and Natale have worked extensively with the Law School’s Immigration Clinic. The team is coached by Michael Ritter, ’11, who was a member of a UT Law team that was a regional champion and national finalist in the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition in 2011. Ritter now works as an assistant attorney general in the state’s Law Enforcement Defense Division. Another alum, Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, ’08, immigration law specialist with Hines & Leigh PC, serves as a consultant for the team.

Students involved in the Giles Sutherland Rich Memorial Moot Court Competition, sponsored by the American Intellectual Property Law Association, will feature Yingying Zeng, ’14, and Colleen Bloss , ’13, both of whom are pursuing careers in intellectual property litigation. This team is coached by Shalla Santos, ’06, who currently works for the Texas House of Representatives, and Meredith Fitzpatrick, ’07, an associate with the intellectual property law firm Daffer McDaniel. Santos and Fitzpatrick won the national championship in this competition together as law students in 2006. Professor John Golden, Loomer Family Professor in Law, advises the team.

Students preparing for the Judge John R. Brown Admiralty Moot Court Competition, sponsored by the Law School, include returning students Meredith Elkins, ’14, and Claire Smyser, ’14. Elkins and Smyser were finalists last year and recipients of the “Best Respondent’s Brief” along with Michael Abrams, ’14; Elkins was also named “Best Oral Advocate” in the competition. Additions to the team this year are: Laura Ingram, ’14; Rocco Magni, ’14; Adam Prom, ’14; and Yaniv Maman, ’14. The team is coached by Chris Sapstead, ’01, who started coaching moot court teams for the Law School shortly after his own graduation. With Sapstead at the helm, the Law School won the Admiralty competition in 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Students gearing up for the country’s largest moot court competition, the National Appellate Advocacy Competition sponsored by the American Bar Association, are: Lauren Ross, ’13; Ross MacDonald, ’13; Colin Watterson, ’13; Michael Kelso, ’14; Phil Harris, ’14; and Michelle Arishita, ’14. All of these students participated in the annual Hutcheson Moot Court Competition as first-year law students, and Kelso was last year’s champion. The team is coached by Gretchen Sween, ’03, and Karson Thompson, ’12. As law students, Sween was a national finalist and Thompson was a national semifinalist in this same competition. Sween currently teaches Legal Writing and Appellate Advocacy at the Law School; she has coached interscholastic moot court teams for the past four years and has accompanied a regional champion to the ABA Nationals each of those four years.

“I have high hopes that this will be a banner year for the law school in terms of moot court,” said Sween, who also serves as the Beck Center’s director of interscholastic moot court. “Thanks to the support of an inspiring alum like David Beck—who recognizes the pedagogical value of moot court—we hope to build on the traditional perception that UT Law is a unique powerhouse, which promotes academic excellence while developing future lawyers with impressive practical skills.”

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