HLS Wins National Appellate Advocacy Competition


Telfeyan and Barchas at the Regional Competition in New York.

On April 5, 3Ls Phil Telfeyan and Elizabeth Barchas were crowned National Champions of the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition, which was held in Chicago. The ABA competition is the largest and most competitive moot court tournament in the country, with a field of 179 teams representing law schools from across the nation. Competitors participate in a hypothetical appeal to the United States Supreme Court, writing a 40-page brief as either respondent or petitioner and then arguing in front of a mock court.Prior to winning the national competition, Telfeyan and Barchas emerged from the five-round New York regional competition in March as Regional Champions, with the highest oral arguments score of the 31 teams competing. Their performance earned them an invitation to compete in the National Finals. Telfeyan and Barchas also were both honored with Best Oralist awards, which were given to the ten best advocates in the region.

The national competition was organized as a series of two non-elimination rounds for seeding purposes, three elimination rounds, and a final National Championship round. The National Championship round was held at the Supreme Court of Illinois before a distinguished panel of judges, including Abner Mikva, former Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit; Michael Kanne federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit; Mary McDade, presiding justice on the Illinois Court of Appeals; Tim Bertschy, member of the ABA Board of Governors; and Ann O’Connell, practicing attorney at Covington and Burling in Washington D.C. and the author of the case being argued.Telfeyan and Barchas argued the final round as petitioner and were announced as the victors at the ABA awards banquet later that afternoon. Their perfect 11-0 record and National Champions crown were congratulated with a standing ovation from the 25 regional champion teams that competed in Chicago.

This year, the issues of appeal to be briefed and argued touched upon immigration and administrative law. Telfeyan and Barchas divided the issues in half, each writing and arguing their issue. Telfeyan’s issue dealt with whether a father in China whose second child was forcibly aborted under China’s one-child policy should be entitled to asylum relief in the United States. Barchas’ issue dealt with whether a federal court has jurisdiction to review a decision by the Board of Immigration appeals to streamline an asylum application, rather than granting full board review.

Unlike other moot court competitions, the ABA competition requires competitors to be prepared to argue both sides of the issues (each team only briefs one side). Based on coin flips, between the regional and national competitions, Telfeyan and Barchas argued two rounds “on brief” and nine rounds “off brief.”

Both Telfeyan and Barchas have succeeded in prior moot court competitions. Each was an oralist in the late rounds of last year’s Ames competition (Telfeyan was a semi-finalist; Barchas was a finalist). Additionally, Telfeyan has now competed in the ABA competition for three consecutive years and has won Best Oralist honors in all three years. This year is the first time Harvard has won the National Championship in the 31-year history of the ABA competition.

Telfeyan commented that the pair entered the competition because they both “love the idea of appellate advocacy” and “thought it would be a great chance to compete, and also to represent Harvard well on a national stage.” Indeed, Telfeyan was aware of the competition before entering HLS, having watched his father’s moot court teams compete in the New York regionals in previous years; his father is a law professor at McGeorge School of Law. To his knowledge, Telfeyan’s three teams (one for each year he has attended HLS) are the only times HLS has fielded a team for the competition. Perhaps Telfeyan’s and Barchas’ success will inspire other HLS students to enter the competition in the future.

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