Saginaw Valley State University moot court program expects to face its toughest challenge yet during its ninth year competing in the national tournament.
Julie Keil, SVSU’s moot court adviser, said the team will be more ready than ever.
“The preparation is the best we've ever had,” said Keil, SVSU assistant professor of political science. “I have high hopes we will do well this year.”
Three SVSU students qualified for this year's tournament scheduled Friday and Saturday, Jan. 19-20, on the campus of University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law in Dallas. The students and Keil are completing months of intense preparation having arrived in Texas one week early – something they haven’t done before – to begin scrimmaging for the American Moot Court Association nationals.
Acting as teams of two attorneys, students competing in the tournament are tasked with arguing two hypothetical legal cases based on real-life courtroom battles. The competition is judged based on the clarity of the students' argument, their public speaking skills, their ability to answer questions, and how well they know the law and the case.
SVSU has built a nationally recognized program, and is currently ranked No. 24 in the country out of the more than 425 colleges and universities who field teams.
This year, SVSU students Jrew Brickel, a criminal justice major from Midland, and Lindsey Mead, an English literature major from Saginaw, represent one of the 80 teams set to face off at the tournament. Joshua Atkins, an SVSU English literature major from Reese, will team with Gabe Klotz, a Bay City native and Kalamazoo College student.
The entire contingent plans to gather in Texas beginning Sunday, Jan. 14, when Keil will begin organizing scrimmages simulating the two courtroom cases planned for the tournament: one involving Fifth Amendment Constitutional rights and a second concerning the legality of prisoners being exposed to "extreme sensory deprivation" solitary confinement.
The five days of preparation in Texas - away from the everyday distractions back home - is intended to focus the group and elevate the students' performances come tournament time. Any advantage could provide the difference versus a field of competition that's never been stronger, Keil said.
"It was much harder getting to the national this year than any other year."
Since a group of highly motivated students founded SVSU's moot court program with Keil in 2009, at least one team from the university has qualified for the nationals each year because of strong performances in regional competitions. During the 2017-18 season, more teams than ever - over 425 - participated in the American Moot Court Association regional contests, up from about 350 two years ago.
"You're getting some really top-notch schools competing, and only the top 19 percent of the competition qualified this year - but we got in," Keil said. "Fortunately, we have two good teams with some of the best students I've ever had. It shows the academic quality of our students."
It also helped that those students - and the program itself - received support from the community and SVSU alumni, she said.
The Ludington Family Foundation, a Sanford-based nonprofit, provided funding to cover the group’s travel expenses. Students involved in this year's program also received support from 16 alumni of earlier SVSU moot court teams who volunteered to help throughout the year - including when they were asked to serve as judges in the regional tournament hosted by SVSU in December.
“They were there for us at the drop of the hat," Keil said. "All of this shows the value of our program.”