BY ADINA LEVINE
After a tense final round matchup against Boston College, Harvard Law School’s Moot Court team won the Northeast regional championships in the annual Philip C. Jessup International Moot Court Competition held in Concord, New Hampshire, on February 26-27. The team’s seventh year in a row victory will allow it to compete in the international rounds to take place in Washington D.C. in late March.
“I’m really proud of the hard work and effort that the team put in,” said Hugo Torres, 3L and Team Captain. “Harvard has won the regional competition for seven years running now-Brandon, Rachel, Marc, and Erica all continued this fine tradition by performing brilliantly over the weekend. We are looking forward to going to D.C. for the international rounds and giving it our best shot!”
The five member team, lead by Captain Hugo Torres, Oralists Brandon Miller, 1L, Marc Jacob, LLM, Rachel Rebouche, 2L, and researcher Erica Gaston, 1L, faced New England School of Law, Suffolk, Boston College, and Syracuse in the qualifying rounds. In the semi-finals, the team faced off against Vermont, and for the finals they confronted Boston College.
“Mooting undoubtedly improves one’s capacity for presenting complex arguments as simple self-evident truisms, often involving serious persuasive efforts in the light of highly unfavorable facts,” commented Marc Jacob, LLM, one of the Team’s Oralists. “The goal is to let the judges hear an interesting and well-told tale that invites only one conclusion, which – surprise! – happens to be one’s own. While it certainly never hurts to try to finish the brief before 2 a.m. the night before it is due, working under deadlines is also something that quickly loses much of its dread.”
In addition to winning the tournament, Torres, who has been doing the Jessup Moot Court competition for three years, secured the award for best oralist. Brandon Miller was awarded 7th best oralist.
“Hugo Torres strikes fear into the hearts of the judges and competitors alike,” Gaston asserted. “My bets are on him for top oralist at the international competition.”
“It’s been a tremendously enjoyable experience so far,” commented Jacob. “Working together with a team of first-rate individuals and a captain as dedicated as Hugo is, I was confident the only thing that could go wrong was that we got too late to the competition – which almost happened, mind you!”
The Jessup competition, as the world’s largest international law Moot Court, is broken down into national and international stages. In the United States, schools compete within their region in order to decide who gets to represent a certain region at the final international round, which will take place in Washington DC.
“The real preparation started in December-January, when we began writing the memorials,” explained Gaston, the team’s legal researcher who became involved in Moot Court because of her interest in nuclear safety and security issues. “February was pretty intense in terms of practicing the arguments and drilling the legal issues.”
The case is about a pirate attack that leads to an accident where the carrier leaks its nuclear waste cargo. The case is argued before the International Court of Justice on claims of liability for clean up, the ship and its cargo, and the environmental effects of the spillage.
“I have a deep interest in human rights and international law,” asserted Torres. “When I heard about the competition as a 1L, I thought it was a great way to develop orating skills while delving into the realm of public international law.”
“In many respects it invited discussion of various current topics, such as the attribution of criminal acts of individuals to states that might have done more to prevent such things from happening, as in the context of terrorism,” Jacob commented. “Besides state responsibility, environmental law and the transportation of radioactive materials through archipelagic waters were also central to the case.”
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.
“I learned lots about the ICJ,” Gaston asserted, “which should be relevant since I want to go into international law.”
Many of the team members are interested in international law, but the skills from moot court competition can apply to other forms of law.
“I am interested in international law and I thought Jessup was a unique opportunity to practice ‘litigating’ non-domestic issues,” asserted Rebouche. “Because it’s a global competition, Jessup is also a chance to meet participants from other countries.”
“Part of moot court competition is being grilled by three judges,” explained Torres. “The ability to engage in oral advocacy under pressure from judges who are constantly asking questions will be helpful in both trial and appellate work.”
The Moot Court team does not get any academic credit for its work, nor does it have a faculty advisor or supervising attorney to aid it in its preparation.
“Unlike most other teams we did not have any official faculty advisers who pored over our memorials or any coaches who accompanied us to the competition,” Jacob stated.
“[Not] having a faculty adviser… is somewhat a source of pride – as most other teams in the competition do,” commented Rebouche.
Jacob, an LLM, has previously engaged in moot court competitions but primarily in front of British judges.
“British judges …tend to favor a different style of advocacy,” commented Jacob. “Apart from obvious differences regarding formalities, last week’s judges put up with much more aggressive deliveries. They also sometimes let competitors ramble on for quite some time with impunity.”
“The cut and thrust of oral argument sufficiently intrigued me to sign up for my first Moot Court,” he said. “There’s nothing quite like coming up with a good point a judge agrees with while thinking on your feet. That said, few things also compare to hastily trying to explain away that gaping inconsistency in your side’s argument with little success!”
“I have been so impressed with how committed and fun the other four members of the team are,” asserted Rebouche. “Hugo Torres has been our ‘captain’ of sorts and is not only a great competitor but also a really warm and supportive person for the team.”