Students hone communication skills in MOOT Court program


Arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court is a moment that seems so far away from a junior political science major with hopes of becoming a lawyer.

But Jessie Johnson ’14 (Johnstown, Ohio) had an opportunity to emulate that experience this fall when Marietta College welcomed back the Moot Court Program, which is taught by Assistant Professor of Political Science Dr. McKinzie Craig.

Moot Court enables students to experience what it would be like to argue constitutional law before the Supreme Court — from reading case studies and preparing arguments to public speaking and defense of one’s legal arguments. The American Collegiate Moot Court Association provides a hypothetical case for each course. Students conduct background research, write arguments and practice giving oral arguments of their positions. Students are encouraged to participate in the regional tournament to present their work.

Last year the program received additional support when Kevin O’Neill ’12, who began his education at Marietta College in the 1980s, earmarked his $5,000 Marietta Fund donation to the experiential course.

Johnson, who was one of nine students to take the course in the fall, learned about it last spring through her academic advisor, Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Mark Schaefer. “This course gave me a general overview of the Supreme Court system,” Johnson says. “It taught me how to write case briefs, different ways to set up an argument, and worked on my advocacy skills.”

In November, Johnson, her partner, C.J. Englert ’14 (Grand Island, N.Y.), and partners Ben Reese ’13 (Marietta, Ohio) and Josh Counselman ’14 (Wellsburg, W.Va.) took their research to the Midwest Regional Tournament at the College of Wooster. Craig says 30 two-person teams from seven colleges and universities participated in that tournament, with the hopes of advancing to the ACMA National Championship Tournament at the Regent University School of Law in Virginia Beach, Va.

Reese and Counselman ranked ninth, advancing to the elimination round and earning an open bid to the national tournament. Johnson and Englert placed 20th. All four students were invited to submit written briefs for the national brief writing competition and all four students ranked in the top 38 in individual orations, with Englert ranking 13th, Reese 18th, Johnson 28th and Counselman 38th.

Johnson says her class conducted mock trials prior to the tournament to give students an understanding of what they’d face during the actual competition.

“I have gained a confidence in advocating a specific topic that I never thought I really had in myself. Dr. Craig really is a credit to how both teams prepared for the tournament,” Johnson says. “She really knew the in and outs of Moot Court, and for four students who have never had any experience in this matter, she was ever helpful in making us believe in our arguments.”

Craig has a great deal of experience in the Moot Court program. “I competed as a student, was an assistant coach at the University of North Texas and I was head coach at Texas A&M University,” she says.

She and her students met twice each week for the three-credit course.

“The Moot Court course is valuable for any student who is interested in refining their written and oral communication skills,” Craig says. “It is aimed at legal questions so it is particularly helpful for students who think they might be interested in going to law school…Moot Court is a good fit for Marietta College because the students are developing research and academic skills in their traditional liberal arts education, and Moot Court gives them an opportunity to put those skills into practice.”

Counselman, also a Political Science major, is considering law school after graduating and decided while studying abroad last year to take the course.

“The class requires a good bit of time,” Counselman says. “Between reading the 10 Supreme Court opinions and what seemed like constantly revising my arguments, the class consumed a decent amount of time. However, I looked forward to Tuesdays and Thursdays because of Moot Court. The preparation for the competition pretty much means just memorizing our arguments. Dr. Craig held class at the Marietta Courthouse a couple of times to have us practice in front of local judges and get different perspectives.”

With a better understanding of what tournament competition is like, he looks forward to participating in the program again next year.

“Ben and I were definitely on the right track, preparation wise,” Counselman says. “Since it was our first time competing, we didn’t know what all to prepare for regarding the judges and the type of questions they would ask. With this being the first year of Moot Court, as a team, we discovered things to build on and some things that we need to iron out for next year’s tournament. The three of us that are not graduating are already looking forward to next year’s competition and hoping to build off of our performances from this year. Personally, the tournament provided a good bit of confidence in the area of public speaking. After this course, the nerves that were associated with public speaking have diminished a little.”