The University of Virginia School of Law overcame tremendous adversity to win its third consecutive victory in the International and European Tax Moot Court last week.
Not only was the team unable to compete in person, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing a virtual contest among schools, but two of the UVA Law team members were involved in a serious bicycle accident just before the final round commenced.
Students Allen Braddock ’20, Ian Macdonald ’21, Michael Olson ’20 and Eleanor Schmalzl ’20 comprised the winning squad, with Griffin Peeples ’20 serving as student coach and Professor Ruth Mason acting as faculty adviser.
Less than 24 hours before the final, Olson was biking with Macdonald when Olson was struck by a car and hospitalized. While his injuries were not life-threatening, they were serious enough to prevent Olson’s further participation in the contest. Olson said he was “grateful to be slowly but surely recovering with the support of friends, family and the UVA Law community.”
“Winning the competition in the midst of it all didn’t hurt,” he added.
Braddock and Schmalzl took up the lion’s share of work and recorded the final video arguments.
UVA Law defeated KU Leuven in the final round. UVA also picked up several awards based on the team’s performance in rounds before the final round. UVA was named best pleading team and best defendant’s oral pleading. Macdonald and Olson were named best individual oralists for the defendant, which is usually awarded to only one person. Macdonald will go on to act as student coach to next year’s team.
“I’m incredibly thankful to both of them,” he said of Braddock and Schmalzl. “It almost felt like fate when I saw that Michael and I were both awarded the best defendant award, in spite of all we went through.”
Schools from all over the world participate in the competition, which is organized by the International Bureau of Fiscal Documentation and the University of Leuven, in conjunction with the global professional services firm Deloitte.
“The international tax moot is the most valuable educational experience I had at UVA, and I got to spend two years doing it,” Peeples said. “I learned about issues that aren’t often taught, became a better oral advocate and writer, and learned how to manage a team of students.”
Normally meeting for the final round in Belgium, the pandemic forced the competition online. Students still wrote 50-page briefs but submitted recorded oral arguments. Judges emailed questions, and students had 15 minutes to respond. The competition was also shortened from three to two rounds, and student coaches were barred from helping in the final round. Final arguments were held Sunday, and judges submitted their questions Wednesday.
“The opportunity to represent UVA Law and the United States against some of the top schools in the world was a great honor,” Braddock said. “It was a chance to demonstrate our knowledge on complicated tax issues while also demonstrating to the world that the University of Virginia has a great law school with a great tax program with great tax professors.”
Schmalzl said the team started learning important concepts in September and received the problem in October. What followed were many late nights over winter break writing briefs, she said.
“None of us knew what we were getting ourselves into when we signed up for this competition, but we all showed great resilience as we got to the finish line,” Schmalzl said. “This competition reminded me how much I love working with other people to reach a common goal.”
This was only the fourth year the Law School has fielded a team. The first team in 2017 made the semifinals, and the 2018 team was the first U.S. squad to win the competition. Peeples was part of the winning 2019 team. UVA Law has one of the most prestigious tax law programs in the United States, ranked No. 5 among U.S. law schools by U.S. News & World Report.
The students participated in the moot after being admitted by application to Mason’s highly selective year-long International Tax Practicum class. Tax professors Michael Doran and Ethan Yale also helped prepare the students by mooting their oral arguments before school recessed for spring break.
“The problem was more difficult this year than in prior years,” Mason said, “and I was really proud of how, by dint of hard work and research, our students were able to unpack the issues and figure everything out.”
She added, “I was also so impressed at how the team pulled together for the final, despite Michael’s accident. The team had planned for Michael and Ian to be the oralists in the final round, but Eleanor and Allen were called in at the very last minute to represent the team as oralists. Despite their concern over the health and well-being of their teammates, Eleanor and Allen turned in a stellar performance. I know that firsthand because one of the benefits of taking the competition online was that I got to watch Eleanor and Allen on YouTube once the competition was over.”
She also commended the organizers for accommodating the teams amidst the disruptions.
“KU Leuven and the IBFD deserve a lot of credit for smoothly moving the competition online,” Mason said. “They had to wrangle judges from multiple countries and accommodate class and exam schedules of students from different universities. Instead of canceling the competition, they afforded students an experience that was as close as possible to the in-person competition.”
Olson said the victory was a culmination of the tax education he received over three years at UVA. In addition to Mason’s team mentoring, formative classes included Property with Professor Cynthia Nicoletti; International Tax with Professor Andrew Hayashi; Employee Benefits with Doran; and Federal Income Tax, Corporate Tax and Partnership Tax with Yale.
“While we were all nervous before the announcement of the winner, I was not surprised that the team three-peated due to the time we spent learning at UVA Law and to Professor Mason’s guidance,” Olson said. “I will carry that validation and confidence with me as I seek to live up to my professors’ examples in practice.”
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.