BY CLINTON DICK
Not surprising to those who follow the annual Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition, Harvard Law School made short change of their rivals to emerge, for the sixth year in a row, as the Northeast Regional winners. The competition was held over the weekend at Quinnipiac Law School in Connecticut.
“We are absolutely psyched,” says 1L Erica Fung, one of four team members and the only first-year student of the group. Fung says the wins of the past hovered over the team, but it didn’t stop them from measuring up. “We were quite nervous going in because our school has done so well in the past that we were almost expected to not only try our best, but to win,” says Fung.
Fifteen schools competed over the weekend. The Harvard Law School team faced Vermont, Franklin Pierce, Suffolk and Boston University in qualifying rounds, and then again faced Vermont and Boston University in the semi-finals and finals, respectively. Two-L team members Hugo Torres and Naomi Loewith both argued the semi-final and final rounds. Says Torres of that experience: “It was a lot of pressure to know everything depended on our performance, but we just focused on what needed to be done and pulled through.” Torres credits the team’s win in the final round on Loewith’s abilities. “Naomi did an astounding job in the final rounds, putting forth the best performance I have ever seen her give,” he says.
During the competition each team argues against an opposing team before a three-judge panel meant to resemble the International Court of Justice. Each side is given 45 minutes to argue, with two oralists from each team presenting their case.
The contentious nature of international law in a world of nation-states means there is plenty to argue about when a case arises about the jurisdictional reach of an international body. Torres says of the Moot Court case this year, “[It] centered on the jurisdiction of the new International Criminal Court and its ability to exercise power over the nationals of states not party to the Court. Specifically, the case dealt with issues of war crimes and incitements to genocide, so it had some very serious issues about the reach of the new court and who should punish such crimes.”
The HLS team not only took home the crown of the regionals, but 3L team member Nathaniel Stankard won best oralist and the team received fourth-best memorial, which is the same thing as a brief. Although Stankard had nothing to say about his own performance, other team members filled in the blanks.
“[Stankard] was absolutely amazing and truly deserved it,” says Fung about the award.
“Nathaniel earned his top oralist award from great performances, especially his first round where he received a perfect score from all three judges,” says Torres. “[Stankard] was our international law guru, the guy we all went to when we were doing research and stuck on an issue. It’s going to be tough not having him around next year.”
But while the most senior team member received the thanks and admiration of his fellow members, the most junior member received all the praise of a star rookie. “Erica basically taught herself public international law in a month and a half,” says Stankard. “It seemed like she’d been studying it for years with the way she dispensed with some incredibly complex questions.”
Both Loewith and Torres had taken public international law and Stankard was a returning team member. But Fung came to the team with only her first semester courses under her belt. Still, she stepped up to the challenge and managed even to impress other teams at the competition.
Says Loewith, “The other competitors were truly impressed when they learned that Erica was competing as a 1L. Many of the schools have qualifying competitions, require a certain level of achievement in municipal moot court or limit Jessup team membership to 3Ls. So they were surprised with Erica’s command of the law and strong oral advocacy skills.”
For Fung’s part she says she just feels lucky to have joined the team and been involved with others who were eager to teach her while also practicing themselves for the competition. “Over the past couple of months, my three teammates taught me everything I needed to know,” she says.
The HLS team will compete in Washington, D.C. the week of spring break for the international round of the competition.