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January 16, 2020

'It's a group project now;' SVSU support drives moot court program to another record year

Despite facing competition growing exponentially in size and talent, hard-driven student work ethic and a campus' support will help Saginaw Valley State University’s national tournament-bound moot court program cap off one of its most successful years ever this weekend.
 
“When our program started 10 years ago, we were competing against 180 teams across the country; this year, there are 467 teams and more top-level schools involved,” said Julie Keil, the founder and co-adviser of the SVSU moot court team currently ranked No. 17 nationally.
 
“This year, teams from elite schools such as Yale, Rutgers, Cornell and the University of Chicago have competed in moot court, for instance. In the face of that, what our program has accomplished is outstanding.”
 
What the program has accomplished this year: Three teams of SVSU students — each team consists of two students — will compete at the 80-team American Moot Court Association national tournament scheduled Friday and Saturday, Jan. 17-18, at Baton Rouge-based Southern University Law Center. The tournament involves teams arguing both sides of 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’s moot court program has never missed a national championship qualification since Keil founded the group in 2010. This is the fourth time six students — a record number from SVSU — qualified for a national tourney. Students qualify for the nationals based on their performances during regional competitions in the fall.
 
The qualifying teams this year include the tandems of Justine Brabaw and Erik Byron; Ashley French and Joshua High; and Lindsey Mead and Justin Weller.
 
The teams’ preparation for this moment began all the way back in May 2019 when the American Moot Court Association announced details of this competitive season’s case files.
 
The moot court teams are formed over the summer months. The students in the fall semester then enroll in a moot court course led by Keil, an SVSU associate professor of political justice. They also meet regularly with Keil and her co-adviser, Amy Hendrickson. The group participates in a number of competitions in the fall across the nation, including the regional tournaments.
 
“There’s a huge time commitment from our students,” Keil said.
 
She was quick to also credit the SVSU community’s support for the program’s standing as one of the nation’s best.
 
Keil said Hendrickson’s participation as co-adviser beginning about five years ago provided a substantial boost to the program’s quality. The two former attorneys split time mentoring participants. Keil typically develops the younger students while Hendrickson works with the veterans of the group.
 
“It really has made all the difference,” Keil said of the support provided by Hendrickson, an SVSU associate professor of law. “Our skill sets really complement each other. She gets paid nothing for this, which shows her dedication.”
 
It also helps that moot court alumni return to campus to provide coaching for their successors, especially considering the growing number of students signing up to compete, Keil said. This year, 20 students participated in SVSU moot court.
 
She said campus administrators and colleagues also deserve credit for the program’s ongoing success.
 
As SVSU moot court continued to send students to the nationals each year, the resulting growth in on-campus awareness inspired more and more fellow faculty members to serve as de facto talent scouts. Her colleagues have recommended a number of the program’s top-performing students in recent years.
 
SVSU administrators also helped Keil sustain the program’s momentum by creating — and increasing — a budget that allows her to send students to more competitions across the country.
 
“It’s a group project now,” Keil said.
 
Among this year’s participants, Mead and Weller are competing in their second consecutive national tournament. They advanced to the round of 32 last year. Mead also qualified for the 2018 nationals. She is an English major from Saginaw. Weller is a political science major from Bay City.
 
French is a political science major from Bay City. High is an accounting major from Traverse City. Brabaw is a political science major from Breckenridge. Byron is a political science major from Birch Run.