Moot Court Is Anything But
Published: Monday, January 30, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, January 31, 2012 14:01
Of the 47 cases brought before the Supreme Court since its term began in October, 45 had been argued beforehand — in a moot court at the Georgetown University Law Center.
Richard J. Lazarus, former Georgetown Law professor and Supreme Court advocate, founded the Supreme Court Institute twelve years ago after he noticed that Georgetown's faculty boasted more practical Supreme Court experience than those at other law schools across the country.
In the past five years, the institute's moot court has gone from hearing 40 percent to 95 percent of cases on the Supreme Court docket.
The Institute conducts two- hour cases are heard on a first-come, first-serve basis during the week before the case is argued in the Supreme Court. Only one side of any case is given the opportunity to present oral arguments in order to prevent conflicts of interest and preserve confidentiality.
"It is completely non-partisan, completely non-ideological, there is no charge for any of the services. It is purely pro-bono and in the public interest," Dori Bernstein, deputy director of the Supreme Court Institute at Georgetown University Law Center, said.
Once the case is scheduled, the assembly of the panel of judges begins. According to Bernstein, the program draws on the many prominent Supreme Court advocates, former members of the Solicitor General's office and recent Supreme Court clerks in the D.C. area.
"We usually try to get a mix of people on a panel so you get a range of experience … various backgrounds and various outlooks … because that is more likely to reflect what the advocate will encounter when they go to court the next week," Bernstein said.
The panelists ask questions of the advocate presenting his or her argument for the first hour, then hold strategic discussions during the second hour. They do not, however, render a verdict on the case.
Bernstein, who has worked for the program since July 2010 and has 18 years of appellate experience in the federal government, said the program is tremendously helpful for the advocates who have the opportunity to receive feedback.
"This job has restored my sense of the legal profession as really being one filled with people who are committed to what's best, I think, in our system of government — that it's a democracy and that there's room for differing opinions and differing points of view, and that we're all best served when all those different points of view can be fully aired and fully explored," she said.
Bernstein added that the ability to hear cases of national importance while they are preparing to do similar work is a valuable experience for students in the law center.
"The primary goal of the Moot Court Program is to prepare advocates to present their best argument to the Supreme Court," Bernstein said. "The secondary goal, which is also of great importance, is to further the education of the students at Georgetown Law school because they have the extraordinary privilege of being able to observe these moot courts."
The program often coordinates with professors so that the case being presented is integrated into the class curriculum as well.
"That's just a tremendous opportunity because it brings the law really alive," Bernstein said.
Correction: The article previously stated that 73 of the 78 cases argued in the Supreme Court had been argued at the Georgetown Law Center beforehand. These numbers were from the October 2010 - June 2011. The article has been updated to reflect the appropriate numbers from October 2011 to the present day.