Students’ Appellate Skills Affirmed by Justice Alito in Moot Court Win
What’s it like to argue before a U.S. Supreme Court justice? Most practicing lawyers will never know, but two University of Virginia School of Law students got to find out earlier this month.
First-year student Philip Doerr and second-year student Trina Rizzo won the Irving R. Kaufman Securities Law Competition at Fordham University on April 8 — one of several first-place victories for UVA Law Extramural Moot Court competitors as the year wraps up.
In doing so, they got to test their knowledge, skills and preparation before Justice Samuel Alito Jr. and empaneled circuit court judges. How flappable would the students be?
“The final round was an incredible experience,” Doerr said. “By that point Trina and I had argued five times, which helped me to feel really comfortable with the material. That said, there was definitely an added layer of nerves being in the final round and arguing in front of Justice Alito.”
Rizzo said their anxiety abated once they got into the flow of argument, however. The questions, not who was asking, consumed their attention.
But the awareness of celebrity crept back into their consciousness with Alito’s announcement of a decision in their favor.
“I had to take a moment to tell myself this really just happened,” Rizzo said. “Samuel Alito really just said petitioners won!"
The win was “of course absolutely thrilling, and surprising too, because the other team was really strong,” she said of the student competitors from Michigan State University College of Law.
Doerr and Rizzo knew from the beginning of the competition that Alito would preside over the finale, but with 28 teams competing from across the nation, including entrants from other top law schools, they considered their chances slim.
The pair ultimately won dinner with the justice, which they enjoyed alongside their final-round competitors, along with the title.
They noted that an element of chance prefaced their achievement.
“We were originally signed up for another competition that was canceled, and this was the one that worked out afterwards,” Rizzo said. “We got very lucky though, because I believe this was the only competition that had a Supreme Court justice as a judge.”
Other moot court success stories for the 2017-18 season included:
- Katherine Whisenhunt ’20 and Luke Zaro ’19 won first place at the National Baseball Arbitration Competition at Tulane University.
- Ron Pantalena ’20 and Laura Toulme ’20 won first place in the AIPLA - Intellectual Property Law Competition in Atlanta.
- Taylor Elicegui ’20 and Jana Minich ’20 were semifinalists at the Craven Constitutional Law Competition at the University of North Carolina; Minich won best oralist.
- Michael Olson ’20 and Mark Russell ’20 were semifinalists at the Charles Hamilton Houston Moot Court Competition at Howard University.
- Sydney Juliano ’20 and Abbey Thornhill ’20 were semifinalists at the BMI Entertainment & Communications Law Competition at Cordozo Law School; Thornhill won best oralist.
- Billy Hupp ’20 and Chelsea Kaluzny ’20 were quarterfinalists at the National Energy & Sustainability Moot Court Competition at West Virginia University; Kaluzny won best oralist.
- Irina Danescu ’20 and Chinny Sharma ’19 were quarterfinalists at the Thurgood Marshall Federal Law Competition in Washington, D.C.; Sharma won best oralist.
The Extramural Moot Court team fielded 22 teams of two this year. They competed in 17 appellate moot court competitions in eight states and D.C., between January and April.
The competitions test the students' ability to understand the law, analyze it and articulate their arguments for judges through briefs and oral argument.