Legal eagles competed at SIUC

By Gus Bode

39 teams from the nation flock to Lesar Law Building

A legal battle between a health care provider and a state ensued in the courtroom in Lesar Law Building.

Of course, this was just a hypothetical case, but for the participants, the stakes were high.

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SIUC’s School of Law sponsored the 11th Annual National Health Law Moot Competition Friday and Saturday in which 27 law schools from around the nation vied for the event’s awards in categories such as best moot court team, best oralist and best brief.

On Friday 39 teams from schools including Loyola University in Chicago, Albany in New York and South Texas College of Law argued their cases. Every year the competition presents a different case for the schools to research and write a paper, or brief, a few months before the national showdown.

SIUC does not have a moot court team for this competition, but it has served as the host for the competition since 1992 because the Law School has a reputable health law program and a close relationship with the co-sponsor, American College of Legal Medicine, a professional society of lawyers and doctors. SIU Medical School also sponsored the event.

This year the schools focused on a challenge by a health care provider claiming that the state’s Medicaid payments are so low that the state is violating federal law.

Peter Herold, a second-year law student from Brooklyn Law School in New York, won the best oralist award for earning the most speaker points from the event’s judges.

“This is my first time ever doing arguments so it was fun to learn from it,” Herold said. “We’re disappointed that we didn’t get to move on very far but we had a lot of fun.”

For Herold and the other law students, the competition is an opportunity to practice attorney skills in a professional environment with the help of federal judges and other prestigious individuals in the law profession.

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“This is like a law school’s varsity team, to draw the best analogy,” said Doug Brooks, a second-year law student from Brooklyn Law School.

Brooks said the students involved in the competition are all highly skilled because they had to make the moot court team through tryouts. Winning an award such as best oralist helps students build a stellar resume for their legal career.

“It demonstrates that you have great oral skills if you want to be a litigator,” Brooks said.

During Friday and Saturday morning’s rounds, 39 teams debated both sides of the argument. By Saturday morning only eight teams had advanced. After a round, the judges score the teams identified by code numbers instead of the school’s name as a way to avoid bias.

After the teams argued their cases, the two school finalists, South Texas College of Law and South Dakota School of Law, went head to head for the final competition. In the end, South Texas won first place, South Dakota placed second, and the University of Houston Law Center placed third.

Gene Basanta, interim dean of SIUC’s School of Law, said arguing both sides presents a greater challenge and helps law students practice their courtroom skills.

“To school them in their abilities and train them as advocates, they have to be able to represent whatever side they’re hired to represent in a sense,” he said. “So we want them to demonstrate their advocacy for both sides. It’s particularly difficult, of course, to have to do that, to switch sides.”

Erin Flynn, a third-year law student from Red Bud, is the chief justice of SIUC’s moot court team. SIUC will compete in other national moot court competitions this spring, she said. Flynn and other members of the team spent months organizing the competition that has steadily grown. Last year, 31 teams from 24 schools participated; this year, 39 teams from 27 schools participated.

“I’ve heard good comments and after all the effort I think we’re known for having a very well-run competition,” Flynn said. “Everything is completely thought out to the very detail and as much as a responsibility as it is, now that it’s over, the past two days have run very smoothly, and I think it reflects really well on the Law School.”

Reporter Jane Huh can be reached at [email protected]

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