Syracuse University Magazine

Syracuse-team-pic.jpgThe National Civil Trial Competition championship team included (from left) Ryan Campbell L’13, Christopher DeFrancesco L’13, Mary Louise Wright L’13, Professor Joanne Van Dyke L’87 (coach), Illianov Lopez L’13, and Jason Feldman L’13.

Winning Arguments

Two days before graduating from the College of Law, Cady Sinnwell Gerlach L’13 recalled with a laugh how anxious she was when she began competing in moot court trials as a new law student. “Everyone is so nervous their first time,” says Gerlach, outgoing executive director of the law school’s Moot Court Honor Society. “You feel like you are shaking. And then you leave the court room and get a rush of adrenaline. I think people who get that kind of high—they know this is for them. They get that court room buzz. And it’s contagious!”

However terrifying and exhilarating that first moot court experience was, trial competition became a vital part of Gerlach’s education, allowing her to gain confidence and providing hands-on training in argumentation, quick thinking, and responding to judge’s questions. Fortunately for Gerlach and her fellow attorneys-in-training, the College of Law boasts one of the most prestigious moot court programs in the country and is one of the few law schools offering a first-year moot court competition. Run by students with the support of a faculty director and student life advisor, the Moot Court Honor Society is composed of 72 second- and third-year students selected through a rigorous application process and directed by an elected executive board. Throughout the academic year, members participate in intramural and intercollegiate competitions designed to sharpen oral and written advocacy skills that are essential in the legal profession.

This year, the college’s trial teams experienced more success than ever before. The National Civil Trial Team competed in Los Angeles and advanced to final rounds undefeated, ultimately winning the championship. Another highlight was the National Appellate Team advancing to national finals, competing against 196 teams from 150 law schools. Additionally, the college finished in the final four at the regional rounds of the Phillip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition, the largest such competition in the world, which draws participants from more than 500 law schools from more than 80 countries. “Across the board, at every competition, our teams were recognized for their quality,” says legal writing professor Lucille Rignanese L’99, faculty director of the Moot Court Honor Society and coach of the Jessup Team. She attributes these achievements to the talent, energy, and experience of the students who participated, as well as the commitment of their coaches and mentors, many of them alumni. “The students love having alumni here, hearing their perspectives and receiving their feedback and advice,” she says. “And alumni enjoy seeing students learn and succeed. Their help is indispensable, and we’re hoping for even more of that in the future.”

Another factor in this year’s success was an emphasis on alternative dispute resolution, rounding out the program’s traditional focus on trial and appellate teams. Dan Cantone L’81, who coached the American Bar Association Student Negotiation Competition Team, encouraged students to compete in this growing aspect of law practice. “They learn to strategize. They learn to problem solve. They learn to collaborate with others,” says Cantone, an adjunct faculty member and practicing family law attorney. “Those are really the most important skills they’ll take away in the practice of law.”      —Amy Speach