HLS Hosts National Animal Advocacy Competitions


From left to right
From left to right

Does animal fighting, such as cockfighting, “substantially affect interstate commerce”? What liability, if any, should an individual have for shooting and killing her neighbor’s dog when the dog is on her property? How should damages be calculated?

Last weekend, law students from all over the country debated those questions at the fourth annual National Animal Advocacy Competitions (NAAC). NAAC, hosted by the HLS Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, was organized by the National Center for Animal Law. NAAC includes both a moot court competition and a closing argument competition.

NAAC drew a diverse group of students looking to improve their oral advocacy and writing skills. Moot court competitor Victoria Schwartz (HLS 3L), for example, noted that writing the appellate brief and participating in oral argument will assist her in her legal career. Next year, she will be clerking for the Ninth Circuit and she hopes to continue with appellate law. Schwartz and partner Kenneth Stalter (HLS 3L), won the NAAC Best Brief for Appellants award.

Many participants were particularly drawn to the animal law aspect of NAAC. Alexandra Freidberg, a moot court semifinalist from the George Washington University Law School who is interested in practicing animal law, for example, applauded the networking opportunities afforded by NAAC. Among the judges were administrative law judge Sarah Luick, animal rights lawyer Steven Wise, and Amy Trakinski, partner with Egert & Trakinski, New York. Jeff Welty, adjunct professor of law at Duke Law School and founder of Duke Law’s Animal Law Clinic, remarked that NAAC “is like a family reunion for those of us who have been involved in animal law for years, and at the same time, it’s an opportunity to see young animal lawyers spread their wings. It’s just a great event, and it’s so inspiring to see how much work the students have put in and how capable they are.”

Between posters explaining various aspects of law and in front of a screen displaying a photograph of a police officer with his German Shepherd, students competed in the closing argument competition. The case involved a police officer seeking $145,000 in economic and non-economic damages from a neighbor who had shot and killed his retired police dog. John Anderson (University of Nebraska College of Law) beat out finalists Kevin VanLandingham (Harvard Law School 2L), Matt Wechter (Chapman University School of Law), and Katherine Lin (Lewis & Clark Law School) to take home the first place prize.

In the moot court competition, teams debated whether Congress had exceeded its authority under the Commerce Clause in enacting the fictional Federal Animal Fighting Act of 2006 and whether the plaintiffs’ claim was sufficiently ripe to support the district court’s exercise of jurisdiction. Teams from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the George Washington University School Law School, Harvard Law School, University of Miami School of Law, University of Nebraska College of Law, University of Oregon School of Law, University of Washington School of Law, Western State University College of Law, and Widener University School of Law, as well as two teams each from Lewis & Clark Law School, Temple University Beasley School of Law, and UC Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law, competed. A team from Lewis & Clark Law School won first place.

An unusual aspect of the moot court competition required participants to argue both sides of the case: in the two preliminary rounds, each team argued once for the appellants and once for the appellee. Schwartz remarked that this aspect of the competition was challenging “because it is hard to get into the appropriate frame of mind to be able to convincingly argue both sides . . . Having briefed one side, I was so convinced that, when it came time to prepare for the oral argument for the opposing side, I intellectually really struggled to shake loose the positions of which I had convinced myself.” Overall, she found the process a “great mental exercise.”

Marissa Dirks (HLS 1L), who volunteered as a timekeeper, was impressed by the ability of participants to quickly switch from one side to another: “I heard both sides argued several times, often by the same people! It’s amazing how convincing they can be when you know they said the exact opposite just as well an hour before!” Dirks also noted that listening to the judges give detailed feedback to all participants was both interesting and useful for future moot court competitions.

NAAC was partially funded by the Bob Barker Fund for the Study of Animal Rights at Harvard Law School. The Bob Barker Fund will also be supporting the upcoming Future of Animal Law conference, which will be held at Harvard Law School March 30 through April 1.

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