April 11, 2018
By Professors Lindsey Blanchard and Mary-Beth Moylan
While many of you across the country have had your eyes glued to the 2018 NCAA College Basketball Tournament, we at McGeorge School of Law have been preoccupied with a different March Madness tournament: the Global Lawyering Skills II Final Four Competition. This competition is the culmination of McGeorge's unique two-year Global Lawyering Skills (GLS) program. The first year of the program-GLS I-introduces students to legal research, objective legal analysis and writing, client interviewing, professional correspondence, and persuasive writing. The second year of the program-GLS II-focuses on persuasive written and oral advocacy.
During that second year, students follow a single case from its inception in the trial court through pre-trial motion practice and the appeals process. This way, students see how a real case evolves and use their analytical skills to solve real litigation problems. They draft trial memoranda for, and present oral arguments on, two separate motions in the Fall semester. After judgment is entered, they draft an appellate brief at the beginning of the Spring semester and then prepare to present their appellate oral argument.
This is where the Final Four Competition begins. Each student in GLS II must deliver a 15-minute oral argument to a panel of three judges, which consists of a mix of GLS faculty and practicing attorneys. The top sixteen oral advocates, as determined by the panels, are chosen to advance for further competition. Over the next two weeks, the Sweet Sixteen are winnowed to the Elite Eight by presenting their oral arguments in subsequent rounds to panels of three GLS faculty members.
In late March or early April, the competitors are finally narrowed to the Final Four-two representatives for the appellant and two representatives for the appellee. The representatives for each side divide the argument, each presenting a 15-minute argument on one issue on appeal to the panel of judges. The panel consists of three judges currently holding seats on the Federal and State bench. Because, for most students, this will be their first time appearing in front of real judges, the students continue to hone their oral arguments and presentation skills by practicing with each other, in front of friends and family members, and with their professors and teaching assistants. By the time the competition rolls around, it's hard to believe that the oral advocates sitting at counsel's table are second-year law students rather than seasoned attorneys. The guest judges treat the argument as if it were a real case, asking tough questions and expecting top-notch professionalism and thorough preparation. And, they are not disappointed. Time and again, they express how impressed they are with the proficiency and practice-readiness of the students and how difficult it is for them to choose a winner.
Although the guest judges may bestow the title of Best Oralist on only one of the Final Four oral advocates, all four of them will receive the Diana P. Scott Award, which reflects the accomplishments of these dedicated students who have pursued this realistic appellate experience in law school. Awards are also given for the top four Best Briefs, as selected by a GLS faculty committee. Those awards reflect the importance of written advocacy in the litigation process.
Throughout the course of this year, the students presented oral arguments on two pre-trial motions: the plaintiff's motion to compel deposition testimony and the defendants' motion for summary judgment based on the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. The court ruled in favor of the defendants on both motions, and the plaintiff is appealing those decisions. The issues on appeal are:
(1) whether the district court correctly held that the attorney-client privilege protects communications between the defendant and a Japanese gyoseishoshi; and
(2) whether the district court correctly held that the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment bar adjudication of the plaintiff's negligent hiring and supervision claims as asserted against a religious organization.
This year's Final Four Competition is scheduled for Thursday, April 12, at 5:30 p.m. in the McGeorge Courtroom. Counsel for the plaintiff-appellant are Stacie Jackson and Cassandra Ninke. Counsel for the defendants-appellees are Dylan Dewit and David Witkin. And, the panel of distinguished judges consists of the Honorable Luis Felipe Restrepo of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the Honorable Carolyn K. Delaney of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California, and the Honorable Christopher Whitten of the Maricopa County Superior Court in Arizona.
FOND MEMORIES OF THE FINAL FOUR COMPETITION . . .
We asked some of our past Final Four competitors what they remember the most about their Final Four experience. The common themes were the time and effort that went into preparing to argue in front of real judges, the resulting quality of the arguments, and the camaraderie that developed between the participants. And, although some were surprised at being chosen (Allysia Holland, '08 participant), "super nervous" (Brian Wiltshire, '13 participant), and challenged by the experience (Greg Hayes, '13 participant), each of them embraced the challenge, relied on the skills they acquired during the year, and went for it!
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
We checked in with some of our 2008 and 2013 Final Four participants to see what they're up to now and how their experience in the Global Lawyering Skills program prepared them for their careers. FIVE YEARS LATER . . . 2013 Final Four competitor Greg Hayes, who went on to win that year's competition, is an attorney at the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office, where he has handled over 20 trials. Brian Wiltshire, who also competed in the 2013 Final Four, went on to become one of the first judicial law clerks for the Nevada Court of Appeals after it was created in 2014. He now uses his MBA and JD skills to help manage his wife's dental practice in Reno. TEN YEARS LATER . . . Allysia Holland, who competed in the 2008 Final Four, worked as a litigation associate at an insurance defense firm for over five years before opening her own law firm (Dahlia Law Group LLP) in Oakland. Her practice areas include legacy and estate planning, business, and litigation.