Michigan State University overcomes challenges in court competition

Students had to argue both sides of Roe v. Wade.
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The Moot Court team at MSU took home a bevy of awards this fall, including recognition for multiple oral arguments and the team’s brief regarding Roe v. Wade, as well as top overall honors. Courtesy Michigan State University College of Law

Michigan State University College of Law won the Billings Exum Frye Moot Court Competition.

The three-member team of third-year law school students Makenzie Sipes, Lauren Legner and Haley Regan took home the championship title after competing in six rounds against 52 teams and more than 100 law students. The MSU team was coached by alumnus Anthony Chester. 

“It was a really cool feeling when we found out that we won,” Sipes said. “Just knowing that all our preparation and hard work had paid off, especially for the kind of problem it was, so it was a cool feeling. It was definitely a team effort as well.”

The issue the team had to argue was whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned. The team had to argue both sides of the case. Regan was the brief writer and Sipes and Legner were the oralists.

“We were surprised that was the topic,” Sipes said. “We just had to approach it carefully, obviously, since the issue is abortion. Everyone has different opinions so that was a big part of our preparation of how do we approach this? We had to argue both sides of the issue at the competition so that was another difficult part was trying to figure out how we are going to convince the court to overturn 50 years of precedent when you argue the opposite side, so it definitely was a sensitive topic, and it was a challenge. It was definitely worth it.”

The competition consisted of two preliminary rounds, an octo-final round, a quarterfinal round, a semifinal round and the championship round. 

According to the rules set out by Elon University School of Law, which hosted the competition via Zoom, during the preliminary rounds, the pairings were determined by brief scores, with the teams seeded based on their brief scores. Briefs were scored prior to the preliminary rounds. Teams in the top half of the brief scores were randomly paired against teams in the bottom half of the brief scores.

The sides each team argued first in the preliminary rounds were assigned randomly; each team argued once on brief and once off brief. The team’s score for the preliminary rounds was weighted 60% for the oral arguments and 40% for the brief.

As the rounds continued, some teams were eliminated while others moved on based on their briefs and/or oral arguments.

In the final round, the two teams were randomly assigned which side they would argue and the team that received the highest total oral argument score won, which was MSU College of Law. 

In addition to the team earning the top spot at the competition, Sipes received awards for second place oralist and best final-round oralist. The team’s brief also was awarded second place overall. The judges throughout the competition included attorneys, retired judges, federal judges and professors. 

Jennifer Copland, director of the competitions program and professor for MSU Law School, said students arguing both sides of a problem is beneficial for them and will help when they become attorneys.

“They randomly assigned teams to a side in the elimination rounds so it could be either side that they have to argue,” she said. “They could argue for the women’s rights side or for the government side and not know ahead of time. Sometimes, it was maybe 15 minutes before a round (when) they were told what side they are going to argue. They had to get their minds back to that side; it could be plaintiff, it could be defendant.

“It really teaches students how to see both sides. In practice, you are going to have a client and you are only arguing one side. It is hard to see maybe what the counter arguments would be where the other side is coming from, so it is hard for students to do this, to be able to argue both positions, but it really helps them see what the concerns are for the other party.”

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