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April 03, 2007

Truly Moot? First Round Delays, Lack of Transparency Mar Competition

By Austin Rice-Stitt

Participants in this year’s Campbell Moot Court Competition waited two weeks past a December deadline to hear if they had advanced to the quarterfinals, and the interval between that announcement and the deadline for submission of a revised first-round brief plus an additional brief was cut from a month to just over two weeks. The delay followed from difficulties getting first round briefs scored by volunteer alumni judges; finally, professors were asked to finish the scoring.

Approximately 50 teams of two submitted a first-round brief by October 30 in advance of oral arguments on November 14-17. Though a document distributed to participants entitled “Campbell Rules” said that “[t]he eight quarterfinalists will be announced in December,” contestants did not receive any correspondence until January 12, the day before twelve quarterfinalists were finally announced. Quarterfinalist teams had 17 days to adapt their first-round brief to new information that was added to the problem after the first round, and to compose an additional brief arguing the other side of the issue.

The Campbell Moot Court Competition is run each year by an Executive Board of around six upper-class law students who are chosen based on faculty recommendations. In advance of this year’s competition, the Board received positive responses from “around 50” alumni volunteers, each of whom was apparently asked to read and score six briefs, or about 120 pages. Because all of the volunteers did not score and return their briefs in a timely manner, the Board eventually had to rely on help from faculty to get each brief scored a minimum of four times. The Board insists that delays are a normal part of the competition, noting in response to questions submitted by the RG that this year’s delay was “not substantially different from previous years.”

As to why there were twelve quarterfinalists instead of eight, as stipulated in the Rules, the Board explained that they “had originally intended for there to be twelve quarterfinalists” and that they “increased the number of quarterfinalists to match [their] original intention.” Traditionally, Executive Boards have not had to explain how they dealt with specific issues that arose during the competition, nor have they been required to release brief scores or a detailed account of how the scoring was conducted. The process for scoring briefs is not transparent, and appears to be inconsistent.

The Board is overseen by the Office of Student Affairs, which provides administrative support to the Board but largely refrains from interfering with their executive function. Christine Gregory, who took over as Director of Student Affairs last fall, said that it has been customary to allow the board to function with “autonomy and flexibility” and to “put their own fingerprint” on the competition. Ms. Gregory is not aware of any reason to allow the Board to shape the competition, apart from the fact that the Board has traditionally had that power.

Ms. Gregory acknowledged that problems getting briefs scored and returned on time are not uncommon, and she agreed that the competition might benefit from more continuity from one Board to the next. A standardized system for scoring the briefs, Ms. Gregory reasoned, might actually make the Board’s job easier, as they would be free to focus more attention on other aspects of the competition. “The challenge,” according to Ms. Gregory, “is to document lessons learned so that the competition can improve. I’m sure that some of these problems recur from year to year, but there isn’t a record of them that I’m aware of.”

The Law School Student Senate (LSSS) may also take an interest in Campbell. LSSS Representative Scott Warheit, a participant in this year’s competition, says he plans to encourage the Senate to look into this year’s irregularities with an eye towards improving future competitions.