Will Sears ’14
Counsel for the appellant
Will Sears ’14 felt extremely confident when, as a first-year student at Columbia Law School, he presented his initial oral argument during the Foundation Moot Court program.
After all, he earned several honors for his oral advocacy skills during high school, won a debate scholarship to Wake Forest University, and repeatedly placed among the top college debaters in the country. He had even deferred his Law School enrollment to coach Harvard University’s debate team.
After wrapping up his work on the Foundation Moot Court—which, like the Harlan Fiske Stone competition, is part of the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Moot Court Program—Sears was convinced that he had aced it. But that was not the case. In fact, he lost.
The brash, combative style of argument and famously fast delivery he had learned while moving up the ranks as a high school and college debater, it turned out, were not ideal when it came to addressing—and convincing—a moot court judge.
Fortunately, other debate skills Sears developed over the course of many years have served him well subsequent to his unexpected first-year defeat—foremost, his talent for in-depth research, an ability to think quickly on his feet, and the capacity to adjust to the unexpected.
“One of the interesting things about the Stone Moot Court competition is that we’re pretending we’re in the D.C. Circuit, but the judges have a wide array of experience litigating in New York and other states,” Sears says. “So they are bringing a perspective that maybe your research hasn’t uncovered, or that maybe you didn’t delve into because it didn’t seem relevant at the time. You have to be prepared to adapt.”
During his time at the Law School, Sears says he particularly enjoyed Professor Jamal Greene’s Constitutional Law class, which emphasized understanding both the substantive underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution and how to shape constitutional arguments, a skill that is essential for both moot court competitions and real-world appellate litigation.
Last summer, as an intern for the Environmental Defense Fund, Sears worked on appellate litigation pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. He saw how arguments took shape, had the opportunity to read briefs as they were being drafted, and, when appropriate, provided his insights on the matters at hand. “Watching how a team of really experienced, competent litigators puts together a brief over a period of weeks on a high-stakes case is pretty incredible,” he says. “You start to realize what it takes to litigate and how cases develop behind the scenes.”
This summer, Sears will work on trial litigation at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan in New York.
This program is made possible by the generous support of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.