Update: The Penn Law team reached the national finals before falling to Chicago Kent on Feb. 5. Penn's Daniel Schwei was named best oralist.
Before issuing the panel's ruling, the moot court's chief justice, Judge Barrington D. Parker Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, told all of the students:"Your presentations were outstanding. All of us here participate in oral arguments in one form or another at one level or another, and all of you already are very talented advocates. If there is no place to go but up, the four of you you are going to have brilliant careers at the Bar."
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Should a private school get preferred treatment from a zoning board because of its religious affiliation? Should a state be forced to subsidize private-school tuition for a special-needs child? And should the answer to either question rest in part on the outcome of a coin flip?
The first two questions are complicated but the answer to the third is an easy "yes," if coin flips help your moot court team win the regional finals.
And Penn Law's moot court team - made up of third-year students Allison Reimann, Steven Myers and Daniel Schwei - arrived at the mid-November regional finals in Baltimore already knowing that its legal briefs had been unanimously judged to be the best. They let coin flips determine who would argue for the plaintiffs and the defendants before the moot court; those arguments were persuasive enough to get the team to February's national championships in New York City.
"We were confident that our brief was one of the better ones," said Schwei. "I was proud of our brief. We had a maximum of 35 pages to address issues that were enormously complex. Even in the limited space, we produced a coherent whole." Myers concurred: "I thought it was a brief that could be submitted to court."
Reimann was named "best oralist," completing Penn Law's sweep of the major prizes for legal writing and oral argument.
"They had the best first practice round I've ever seen," said Anne Kringel, senior lecturer and legal writing director at Penn Law and the team's faculty advisor.
The group has already taken beneficial lessons from their moot court experience. "I learned the value of working collaboratively with very intelligent teammates," Schwei says. Reimann appreciates "the opportunity for feedback on the delivery of an argument. We not only received great feedback from the faculty members who helped us prepare, but from the judges themselves after each round."
Rules prohibit any revision of the brief for the national competition, so the team will focus on honing its oral arguments after winter break. "From what we've seen in the regional round, it's worth all of us being ready to answer questions about the issues raised in both cases," Reimann says.
That preparation, and a lucky quarter, might just do the trick.