Two teams remain in the final round: two students representing the appellee and two representing the defendant/appellant.
Emily Hush ’18 is drawn to what she calls the “performance aspect” of moot court. Music and mooting share “a lot of the same principles of expression—creating a stage presence, making a connection with your audience,” said Hush.
She ought to know: A trained French horn and piano player, she earned a bachelor’s degree in music and a specialized postgraduate diploma in orchestral repertoire before coming to Columbia Law School. Although Hush didn’t have any experience in public speaking or debate as an undergraduate, she has won top honors in moot court competitions at the Law School.
As a 1L participant in the Winston & Strawn International Moot Court Program, she took first place at the prestigious European Law Moot Court in Luxembourg. The Canadian-born Hush, who argued in English and French, was the only winner from a U.S. law school and the first in the history of Columbia Law School in that competition. Anu Bradford, the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization and an advisor to the team, called it “a major accomplishment.”
Now Hush (who continues to perform as a soprano in the Columbia University Bach Society) has reached another pinnacle of mooting, having been selected as a finalist in Columbia Law’s Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition, part of the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Moot Court Program.
In the competition, Hush represents the U.S. government in a fictional criminal case against a state official accused of depriving citizens of their right to vote. She has been on the same side of the case since the first round, unlike some of her competitors who have had to switch sides for various reasons. She acknowledged her one-sided perspective may be a “weakness’’ because it makes it harder to see the other side’s argument. “You can become so convinced by your own arguments that you can’t imagine anyone arguing against you.”
Hush said her writing skills have improved because of her moot court experience and that she’s also learned when judges want her to concede a point, even though it can be difficult to do so.
“It’s hard to recognize that your case would fail if you took an argument far enough,” she said.
Throughout her law school experience, Hush said, Professors Bradford, Clarisa Long, Susan Sturm, and Alexandra Carter have been mentors and “symbols of what I can do with my legal education.” Hush serves as a research assistant to Bradford, including working on the professor’s “Brussels effect” scholarship, which explores the European Union’s outsized influence on global markets.
“Without that experience, I would have struggled with the competition because you have so many facts and so much law, and you have to condense it in a persuasive way,” she said.
Hush, who will be joining Debevoise & Plimpton as a litigation associate in New York City after graduation, said she’s also enjoyed working with her classmates and seeing what they have done with their own arguments and briefs.
“There’s really a lot to learn,” she said.
Jan Jorritsma ’18 had a busy few months at Munger, Tolles & Olson. As a 2017 summer associate in the Los Angeles office, he worked on two long memos, one on an evidentiary question and another on contract enforcement; conducted research for a possible resentencing for a pro bono client sentenced to life without parole as a juvenile; and assisted on an amicus brief the firm submitted in a case challenging the system of cash bail in Harris County, Texas.
“I had some very long nights,” he said, laughing. “But it was a great experience. Everyone was really passionate about what they were doing. It convinced me that litigation is something I want to do.”
When he returned to campus, Jorritsma was eager for the chance to hone his advocacy skills and signed up for the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition, part of the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Moot Court Program. He first became interested in participating as a 1L, watching his upper-year classmates respond to questioning from a panel of federal judges, including U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito.
“I was really impressed with how the participants did,” he said.
His own results have been impressive too. Now one of four finalists in the Harlan Fiske Stone competition, Jorritsma is arguing, along with his partner Emily Hush ’18, on behalf of the U.S. government in a fictional criminal case against a state official accused of depriving citizens of their right to vote.
Jorritsma is not entirely new to public speaking; as an undergraduate student at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he qualified for a national debate competition, the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (Jorritsma was tasked with arguing about easement laws and the federal estate tax). In fact, he said, his favorite part of moot court is the oral argument.
“What I’ve liked most is when you get into questions,” he said. “I was surprised by how much that would end up driving oral argument. It’s a chance to think quickly on your feet.”
In an earlier round of the Harlan Fiske Stone competition, Jorritsma faced a question he hadn’t expected. He said he took a deep breath and then did his best to provide a response. He later addressed the issue in his brief.
“It’s the most exciting part because it’s a little bit out of your hands, and you get to throw things out on the fly,” he said.
Jorritsma said he had drawn on several courses—Constitutional Law with Professor David Pozen, Administrative Law with Professor Peter L. Strauss, and Federal Courts with Professor Gillian Metzger—in preparing for the moot court competition and in understanding the case. He also found “cold calls”—the Socratic method in which a professor grills a student in front of the class—useful in gearing up for oral argument.
“In some ways, the Socratic process is really helpful,” he said. “The judges’ questioning [in moot court] is kind of like being cold called for 20 minutes or so.”
Jorritsma, who will return to Munger, Tolles & Olson for a year after graduation and then spend 2019–2020 clerking in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, said his goal in oral argument is to “figure out what the judges are most concerned about.” To practice, he has his partner ask him questions and tries to think of new potential questions himself. He also scouts out empty classrooms in Jerome Greene Hall—especially classrooms with podiums—to rehearse the points he wants to hit.
“It’s nice to feel like you’re really re-enacting the real thing,” he said. “I say it over and over and over again.”
He said he has learned a lot from his fellow competitors as well.
“Everybody’s just very prepared and pushes you in ways you don’t expect,” he said.
As an undergraduate majoring in English literature at Columbia University, Lauren Beck ’19 had an interest in studying the law. But before she committed to three years of law school, she wanted to be sure, so she decided to work at a pair of law firms.
After a stint as a corporate clerk at Gunderson Dettmer in Redwood City, Calif., she said she found her place at Susman Godfrey in New York City, working as a paralegal assisting lawyers with trial preparation and in the courtroom.
“Those were maybe the best two years of my life,” she said. “I found the work very exciting—maybe not all the paralegal work I did, but getting to watch litigators who are very talented do what they do very well.”
Beck came to Columbia Law School with the goal of becoming a litigator. To help herself achieve that goal, she signed up for the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition, eventually earning one of four spots in the final round.
Now a student editor in the Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison Moot Foundation Moot Court Program, Beck had no prior public-speaking or debate experience before she came to law school, except for a first-place prize in a fifth-grade speech contest. But she said she loves every aspect of moot court, especially oral argument. “I do think it’s the most fun thing to get up and have to think on your feet,” she said.
She said she’s enjoyed learning from and getting to know her fellow competitors as well.
“I’ve been so impressed by the other students who have competed,” she said.
In addition to spending time at Susman Godfrey, where she worked on Financial Industry Regulatory Authority arbitrations and on a whistleblower case under the False Claims Act, among other matters, Beck also had a summer internship in the chambers of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Sullivan of the Southern District of New York. There, she conducted legal research, prepared bench memoranda, and drafted judicial opinions in both civil and criminal cases.
“My summer with Judge Sullivan was super formative,” she said. “He likes to treat interns like clerks, so he gives you substantive work and expects you to meet tight deadlines. That forced me to become a better writer and researcher.”
Before her final year in law school, Beck will be a summer associate at Jones Day in New York. She said what she enjoys about litigation is the wide variety of matters clients bring to the table.
“It’s not that one particular kind of case is more interesting than another,” she said. “The legal issues are always interesting, and the people involved in the disputes have very real problems.”
For Brett Mead ’18, the Harlan Fiske Stone Moot Court Competition is practically a family tradition. His older brother, Kevin Mead ’14, participated in the competition as a 2L and 3L. And his brother’s wife, Beatrice Franklin ’14, swept the finals in 2014, winning both best brief and the Lawrence S. Greenbaum Prize for best oral presentation.
Brett Mead said he was already inclined to participate—“I love competing in anything”—but that the feedback from his brother and sister-in-law made entering a no-brainer.
“They said it was one of the most rewarding experiences in law school—totally worth the effort you put into it,” he said.
So far, the return on investment has been impressive: Mead is a finalist, and, along with his final round partner Lauren Beck ’18, will face off against Emily Rush ’18 and Jan Jorritsma ’18 in a fictional criminal case against a state official accused of depriving citizens of the right to vote.
Aside from participating in the Paul, Weiss Foundation Moot Court program as a 1L, Mead didn’t have any prior public speaking or moot experience before entering the Harlan Fiske Stone competition. But he said that he learned a lot about legal writing through his summer positions: as a 1L, he interned at Schindler Cohen & Hochman, and as a 2L, he was a summer associate at Cooley.
At Schindler Cohen & Hochman, Mead had the opportunity to work on a motion to dismiss in an insider-trading case. A partner, after providing Mead a few rounds of edits, gave him some valuable advice. “He said, ‘Don’t overwrite this. Just sit down and think about what you believe would be convincing,’’’ Mead recalled. “That’s served me incredibly well.’’
Mead also has drawn on lessons from Professor Daniel C. Richman’s Federal Criminal Law class and a Criminal Adjudication course with Lecturer Paul Shechtman, a former criminal division chief in the Southern District of New York who now works as a defense attorney. Shechtman took his students to watch him in a sentencing hearing, at which he successfully argued for a below-guidelines prison term for his client, a former private-equity executive charged with fraud. Shechtman argued that the man had a gambling addiction that influenced his behavior. An article about the case in USA Today was headlined “Wall Street fraud sentencing prompts tears and debate.”
Mead said Shechtman is “composed and likeable” behind the podium. “I’ve tried somewhat to emulate his style, knowing my natural instinct is to be sharp elbowed,” he added.
In moot court, Mead said, he enjoys researching the underlying issues in a case and participating in oral arguments. “I like getting up in front of people and talking,” he said. “When I’m sitting there thinking about arguments, I imagine myself yelling them at somebody.”
Overall, Mead, who will return to Cooley as a litigation associate in New York City after graduation, said the entire moot court experience has been worthwhile. “The competition is a great way to interact with other law students and to learn the professional code of lawyering,’’ he said, adding that there is camaraderie among competitors. “The relationship you have with the other side is not tainted by the fact that you are on the polar opposite ends of a legal argument.”