Strong showing for inaugural Jessup Moot Court team


Rex Bossert

Going into the Pacific regional rounds of the Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition in Portland, Ore., in early March 2012, the four-member UCI Law team had a secret weapon to help disarm the competition: mango gummy candies.

Their friendly demeanor and ice-breaking candy offering helped them keep loose while other teams with more experience were more uptight.

"We were always smiling and laughing and were the first to introduce ourselves," says Jean Su.

"We tried to make friends and break the ice," says Sabyl Landrum.

Apparently the strategy worked. The UCI Law team of Su, Landrum, Jenny Hua and Andrea LaFountain placed 8th out of 24 schools, and made it to the quarter finals, losing by one vote on a three-judge panel to the University of Hawaii.

Out of 96 oralists, Su placed 4th and Landrum place 10th. UCI Law provided the second most number of top 10 oralists, next to the University of Hawaii, which also provided two, while UC Hastings provided three.

What's even more impressive: Not only was the team the first from UCI Law to participate, but their coach, Prof. Christopher Whytock, could not make the trip because of a previous engagement hosting a law school conference on human rights litigation.

"They were very collegial competitors, and that's a great thing," says Whytock, who monitored his team by email. "It was a good experience for the practice of law."

Now more than a half century old, the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is the world's largest moot court competition, with participants from more than 500 law schools in more than 80 countries. The competition is a simulation of a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, part of the United Nations. A single team is allowed to participate from every eligible school. Teams prepare oral and written pleadings arguing both sides of the case.

As UCI's inaugural Jessup team, it didn't have the advantages of institutional knowledge and prior Jessup experience enjoyed by teams that have been competing for decades, says Whytock. "In the team's first year, it succeeded in putting UCI on the map as a top competitor, and making a great first impression on behalf of UCI in terms of both talent and collegiality with other schools," he says.

Landrum says that if she had to do over again, she would like to see the team start its oral practice earlier, "to help inform our brief writing." She says the teamwork and the many re-writes of the brief were good practice for her in her current work for the Public Defender's Office, where "a lot of hands are all over" what they do there.

LaFountain says that a real-life decision handed down by the International Court of Justice shortly before the competition forced them to get creative in their approach on the issue of sovereign immunity.

"This situation can happen in the real world," says Whytock. "They developed a set of very good arguments."

"I think the analytical work is really challenging," says Su. "International law is a beast" she adds, "and especially difficult to explain to those without an international law background."

Team members say the most exciting part of the event was when it was announced that they made the quarter finals. "The judges said they loved our road maps," Hua says of the initial statement of issues to be addressed.

Whytock says the UCI Law faculty and community were a great support in the practice rounds and the run-up to the regionals. "I hope this is the start of a vibrant international law moot court tradition at UCI Law," he says.