Four moot court students capped off the program’s year with high placements and awards at the National Invitational Tournament from April 7 through April 9.
The tournament consisted of 18 teams that did not qualify for American Moot Court Association’s national tournament.
Communications and political science sophomore Danielle Musselman and political science sophomore Jacquob Littlejohn finished in third place at the competition, while political science junior Hayley Tomich and history senior Alex Partridge placed in the top eight.
Musselman also received a sixth-place orator award, marking SVSU’s first in the category at the National Invitational Tournament.
“I was very humbled to see that I won,” Musselman said. “And then, to make it into the semifinals and get third place was absolutely surreal. It was a long day, but I was really grateful that we did as well as we did and we just performed at our best.”
Moot Court is offered as two three-credit classes: one for beginners and one for returning students. Each year, the American Moot Court Association selects a fictional U.S. Supreme Court case to simulate at competitions.
Students then pair into teams, developing oral arguments and legal briefs based on the case. The teams use the knowledge they acquire in the course to read court cases, analyze the logic behind judgments and apply that information toward their own arguments.
This was Musselman’s first year in the program, and she said the workload was more than she anticipated. She noted that being conscious of word choice and the implications of certain words was particularly difficult.
“It’s like nothing else you’ve ever done,” Musselman said. “There’s no comparison. Overall, it’s been a good experience, and I have grown so much as a speaker.”
SVSU’s program ranks No. 20 overall, beating out schools like the University of Chicago and Arkansas State University.
Political science professor Julie Keil has advised the program since it began at SVSU seven years ago. She said the program has taken a team to nationals each year but that the 2016-2017 academic year was “by far [their] best” in competitions.
SVSU’s eight teams have seen several wins outside the National Invitational Tournament as well. Keil noted that one team placed first at the Windy City regional in November, marking the program’s first regional tournament win. Three other teams finished in the top 10 at the December regional held on campus. The four teams all advanced to the National Tournament in January, trumping SVSU’s previous record of three teams advancing to the competition.
Other students also had individual wins this year. In addition to Musselman’s sixth place orator award at the National Invitational Tournament, six students won regional orator awards at the tournament on campus.
Political science major Gabe Klotz, who has since transferred to Kalamazoo College, won the first-place orator award at the National Tournament in January, marking the program’s highest ever placement.
“From the university point of view, moot court shows that SVSU students can compete with some of the best students in the country, against much larger universities than ours, and still be on the same level they are,” Keil said. “So it’s a big plus for the university. It’s a recruiting tool.”
Tomich said the program has been helpful in giving her experience in the legal field.
“Moot court helped to reinforce my plan to go to law school,” Tomich said. “Especially after moot court, I know that’s what I want to do.”
Tomich said the program has also been personally enjoyable.
“Being a part of moot court has been an awesome experience because we all became like a family,” Tomich said “We’re traveling together and doing these arguments together.”
For her honors thesis, Tomich will work with Keil and law professor Amy Hendrickson to examine gender biases in moot court.
Keil said the program is continuing to grow despite the university’s decreased student enrollment. She expects to see 20 to 25 students next year, a dramatic increase from this year’s 16 students.
“We don’t have to find [students]; they’re finding us right now,” Keil said. “That’s a big improvement for us.”
Keil said the program is not just for pre-law students.
“I would urge anybody who’s interested in developing better speaking skills, getting some travel opportunities, and a chance to be in an academically challenging program to contact me about signing up for the program, because it’s useful for anybody for any major,” Keil said.
Interested students can contact Keil at jakeil (at) svsu.edu.