For the first time, the University of Virginia School of Law fielded a team for the International and European Tax Moot Court competition in Belgium, and took home several top prizes.

The annual competition, organized by the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation and the University of Leuven (KU Leuven), in conjunction with the multinational professional services firm Deloitte, is the only moot competition of its kind in the world. Top professors, judges and lawyers brought their global expertise in taxation to bear on the simulated court proceedings, which were held March 26-April 1.

Third-year law students Amanda Leon, David Maranjian, Eleanor Moran, Jonathon Wilson and William McManus (serving as a coach) won Best Pleading Team, which is awarded for highest overall oral argument scores. Best Oral Team for the Defendant went to Leon and Wilson, and Best Individual Defendant went to Wilson. Overall, the team placed fourth.

UVA Law has one of the most prestigious tax law programs in the U.S. — and now, increasingly, abroad.

Professor Ruth Mason
Professor Ruth Mason teaches a class.

"Several professors from other schools expressed to me that this was an unprecedented performance for a school competing for the first time," said Professor Ruth Mason, an international tax expert who served as the team's adviser.

Students said the experience was rigorous and grueling, but in the end rewarding.

"Preparing the brief, while difficult and touching on many subjects I was unfamiliar with, was extremely gratifying," said Wilson, who hails from Kirkland, Washington. "It brought together all of my law school education and gave me a single capstone experience to be proud of."

Wilson will join the Houston office of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom after graduation.

Leon, of Grayslake, Illinois, said Mason encouraged the team to attack the multi-faceted problem in the way young, ambitious law firm associates might.

"It was fun seeing everyone's competitive nature come out in Belgium after so many hours of preparation at the Law School, and I think our oral pleadings and our awards really reflect that fire," Leon said. "Our success is undoubtedly attributable to the strength of the tax faculty here at the school."

Earlier this year, a paper Leon wrote on EU taxation won first place in the International Fiscal Association USA Branch 2016 Writing Competition. After graduation, she will work for Caplin & Drysdale, a renowned law firm in Washington, D.C., that specializes in tax. UVA Law alum and former IRS tax commissioner Mortimer M. Caplin '40 founded the firm.

Having made it to the semifinal round this year, UVA has a guaranteed berth in the oral competition next year, without having to submit its briefs to the pre-moot elimination round.

The team drew on what they learned from the Law School's international tax offerings, including Mason's courses Topics in International Law and EU Tax.

"Knowledge of EU tax was our secret weapon," Mason said. "The Europeans were not expecting competitors from the United States to know their law." 

In addition, UVA Law tax professors Michael Doran, Andrew Hayashi and Ethan Yale helped prepare the students through simulation.

"The quality of the competition in Belgium was very high," Mason said. "It is clear that other schools dedicate significant time and resources to preparing their students. Even against the tough competition, our students did extremely well."

The team from Vienna University of Economics and Business (WU Vienna) ultimately won top honors, followed by teams from KU Leuven and Heidelberg University.

In addition to gaining experience through the moot, UVA Law students heard tax talks from the president of the Court of Justice of the European Union, among other prominent officials, and they made a trip the EU Commission in Brussels.

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Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.