Nico Gurian ’17
For the Plaintiffs-Appellants/Cross-Appellees
When Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court finalist Nico Gurian ’17 was in his second year at Columbia Law School, he enrolled in the Federal Appellate Court Externship, which culminates in a moot court argument before a panel of three judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
Unlike the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court, the externship argument isn’t a competition. But just having the opportunity to do it is a win, Gurian said. He argued a Fourth Amendment case before Judges Robert D. Sack ’63, Gerard E. Lynch ’75, and Debra Ann Livingston.
“To be able to actually stand in the well in the 2nd Circuit and answer questions was a great experience,” he said. “I got really helpful feedback from all of them.”
Gurian also loves both brief writing and oral argument.
“It’s fun and challenging to chew over the problem and try to come up with creative arguments,” he said. “And going in with a plan and thinking on your feet to try to answer the questions is exciting.”
Gurian prepares for arguments by identifying the three main points he wants to make to the judges and then fleshing out the relevant cases and questions he may be asked about—a strategy he learned in the externship from Caitlin J. Halligan, a lecturer at the Law School and co-chair of Gibson Dunn’s appellate and constitutional law practice. Then, he tries to moot the argument as much as he can. He’s gotten lots of help in that regard. Members of his first-year Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Frederick Douglass Moot Court team have pitched in, as has his fiancée, fellow Columbia Law School student Francesca Cocuzza ’17. The pair met in Professor Bernard E. Harcourt’s Legal Methods class during their first year.
“It makes it a lot easier to have someone I can ask how something sounds over dinner,” he joked.
During the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition, Gurian has drawn on experiences he’s had on campus, including his time as executive articles editor of the Columbia Journal of Law and Social Problems, which he said has made him a better writer. Gurian also served as an extern for Rolando T. Acosta ’82, a judge in the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court, and said he picked up some useful advice from Professor Michael Heller, whom he had for classes on property and land use.
“If you’re working on a brief and it seems like all of the cases are going in one direction, it shouldn’t foreclose you from trying to think of different avenues,” he said.
In the end, he said, the best preparation is preparation.
“With oral argument and brief writing, it’s practice, practice, practice,” he said. “Each time you do a practice argument, you learn and get better. There’s really no replacement for getting up and doing it.”
After graduation, Gurian will be clerking for Judge Thomas P. Griesa of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He hopes to eventually work on labor, employment, and workers’ rights issues.