Sunday, October 19, 2008

USF Law Moot Court Board Administers Dismal AYC Competition

The USF Law Moot Court Board runs an annual competition, Advocate of the Year (AYC), and this year they seem to truly missed the mark in running this year's program.

Advocate of the Year is an intramural appellate advocacy competition open to all USF law students who have completed 1L Spring Moot Court. Participants are presented with an issue upon which they are to research and brief the issues of the case.

After submitting briefs, competitors argue in preliminary rounds before judges. In the preliminary round, each competitor argues twice: once as petition against one opponent and once as respondent against another opponent. If you win both arguments, you advance to the second round. If you lose both arguments you are eliminated. If you lose one, but win one, your score will determine if you advance to the second round.

In the second round, the format is the same as the first, two arguments, two competitors. If one goes undefeated in the second round, regardless of how they did in the first round, they have a shot at the final round in which two competitors argue for title of Advocate of the Year.

And this final round is where the Moot Court Board has shown itself to be inept in administering this program. This year, four contestants emerged as finalist according to a flyer posted on the Moot Court bulletin board. Three of these contestants were undefeated in both rounds (say Contestant A, Contestant B, Contestant C) and the fourth lost one argument in the first round (Contestant D). Yet, in the flyer next to this posting it lists Contestant C and Contestant D as the finalists. This means that Contestant A and Contestant B were eliminated from the competition without ever losing an argument! To put it another way, a competitor who has lost an argument is jumping ahead into the final round despite the fact that there remains eligible two competitors who have not lost ANY arguments.

This policy makes no sense and is unfair to the competitors. The Moot Court Board presumes that by winning both their arguments in the second round, each candidate is equal and it would only be fair to judge them by their scores. This argument might hold some ground if each candidate remained undefeated through two rounds. But this is not the case because one of the candidates is defeated- he lost an argument in a previous round. Because he has a loss, he is therefore, not equal to the remaining three who have never lost. It therefore makes no sense that he is put into the final round.

To add further insult to injury, Contestant A actually defeated the contestant (Contestant E) who Contestant D lost to in an earlier round. By that logic, even if can be argued that Contestant A is inferior to Contestant B and Contestant C by some arbitrary measure, he should at least, at a minimum, be considered superior to Contestant D because he defeated Contestant E who was better than Contestant D. It therefore reasons that Contestant A would be better than Contestant D.  If E>D and A>E then A>D.  

Even further, the Moot Court Board seems to entirely miss the point of the competition. The point of the competition isn't to score points. The point of the competition is to see who is the best advocate by pitting advocates against each other. Scoring is merely a way to determine who did better in that argument relative to their immediate competitor- not a third party who is not arguing.

When Contestant X argues against Contestant Y in a match, their score reflects only how well Contestant X did relative to Contestant Y. Now say, in the future, Contestant X is arguing against Contestant Z. The winner of this argument should be who ever argues better relative to each other. Can Contestant X argue more persuasively than Contestant Z? It would be mind boggling to forgo competition and declare Contestant X a better arguer than Contestant Z simply because Contestant X had a better score against Contestant Y than Contestant Z did against Contestant W. The scores are apples and oranges. Indeed, it makes no sense to substitute a past score for immediate competition. This would be like forgoing the actual presidential election on November 4 and declaring Barack Obama the winner because he's leading in the polls today.

What the Moot Court Board should do is have the four competitors actually compete in an additional round. The two winners of that round should then be the finalists. If a semi final round cannot be conducted, then, as a last resort, the three competitors who have remained undefeated through out could possibly average out their total scores with the top two averages advancing. Or possibly, look for any overlap where competitors have faced the same opponents and looked to see who scored better.

It is unfortunate that instead of having a top notch competition featuring the best competitors winning and losing by their own merits, we have a substandard event in its place.  This is not due, however, to a deficit of ready, intelligent, and intense competitors. But because of a Moot Court Board that is, for lack of better words, lazy.  Instead of putting together a competition that competed all the way through- competitors advancing through head to head competition with other competitors- the Moot Court Board chose to take the easy way out and determine winners based on apples and oranges scores. It's defrauds the competitors who put so much time and energy into AYC, it cheats the school and its student body from being able to host and enjoy a strong, substantive academic competition, and it dishonors the integrity of the competition itself.

As a clarifying matter, I don't intend this critique to be a broad based assualt on the Moot Court program itself or its Case Counselers who work hard in the summer to teach 1Ls proper advoacy techniques come the spring.  Nor do I have a bias in the outcome of the competition for I did not participate.  I comment only as an observer.  Indeed, this critique is very narrowly aimed at those Moot Court members who planned, supervised, and executed this competition.   
While I give the greatest respect to the two competitors who are competing the finals, it appears unfortunate that their contest will be tainted with the suggestion that the best competitors might not actually be competing. I can only hope that next year's Moot Court Board cares enough about the value of the AYC competition to correct the mistakes of this year's Board.

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