Bayliss and Sergenian Win Moot Court Competition

April 23, 2003
Sergenian and Bayliss
Bayliss (right) and Sergenian were in the same section but did not know each other well before they agreed to be partners.

Fate was at work when third-year law students Thompson Bayliss and David Sergenian, both having trouble securing a partner for the Moot Court competition, turned to each other and formed the winning team. They won over the other finalist team, Zach Hafer and Jason Smith, despite worrying that they hadn't been as successful in the trial's critical final oral argument phase.

"We won on the brief. That's at least 50 percent of the score." Sergenian said. "They had us on oral argument."

"No, I think we were as clear," Bayliss injected. "But they were definitely the best team we went against. I thought their delivery was better than ours. I really don't know why we won. We thought they must have."

Roughly 150 second-year students entered the competition in the fall of 2001 and 64 were selected to advance into the later rounds. After making the cut, both Bayliss and Sergenian approached friends about teaming up but neither was successful. "It's like trying to find a date for prom," explained Sergenian. "But two of the people I asked did get into the quarter finals."

Moot Court problems are variations on actual cases likely to come before the Supreme Court and so are pregnant with unresolved legal issues. "These are hot-button issues," said Bayliss. "About 75 percent of the arguments we use are the same ones that will be used in court. The problems are set up to bring out the same issues."

The first-round problem dealt with whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's arbitration clause binds just individuals or the EEOC itself when it acts on an individual's behalf. The second problem dealt with a takings clause issue. "It was either a categorical taking or not a taking at all," Sergenian explained. The third round problem concerned a drug-abusing mother whose boyfriend was arrested in her house. Was the arrest warrant alone sufficient legal grounds to enter? The case also involved a procreation ban on the mother, whose baby was found covered with cocaine during the arrest. The problem for the semifinal and final rounds posed the issue of whether state sovereign immunity applies in proceedings of the National Maritime Commission and, if it does, whether immunity had been waived in the problem's context.

"The critical thing is choosing which arguments to make and which not to," said Bayliss, who came away from the experience with a healthy respect for the judges. "I don't think there was an argument you could slip past them. The level of questioning is really challenging. They were very impressive."

Bayliss and Sergenian were in the same section but did not know each other well before they agreed to be partners. They shared a strong desire to succeed and found they complemented each other. "When we had a question that was hard to answer we worked closely together," said Sergenian. "We both thought of each other's arguments as our arguments and we helped each other to make sure things were making sense. But we didn't do research for each other."

"We were both strongly motivated to do well," added Bayliss. "We liked the competition."

"There was a tremendous amount of friendly debate between us over the problems," said Sergenian. "We really tested our explanations. Tom is really good at taking things apart logically."

Moot Court competition transforms the analytical nature of law school classes into personal skills, they said. "When I first got to the Law School I didn't understand what oral argument is," said Sergenian. "I actually thought argument meant disagreeing with the judge."

"Moot Court really feels like the real thing," Bayliss agreed. "It's an opportunity to build skills. Brief writing is a huge part of it. But it also has a theoretical element that is trying to anticipate where the law should go."

"It really clarifies how valuable what you learn in class is. Your background knowledge is critical," noted Sergenian, who said he is headed for a career in litigation. Bayliss said Moot Court may be a near as he gets to a trial setting for a while because his next destination is a "big firm."

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