When the final verdict was handed down, Ohio Wesleyan University seniors Katie Berger and Rhiannon Herbert earned an OWU-record-setting, Top-5 finish in the American Collegiate Moot Court Association’s national championship.
The two future lawyers broke their own school record in the tournament, held earlier this month in Long Beach, California.
“This team is used to winning,” said pre-law adviser Michael Esler, coach of OWU’s moot court team. So, he said, it was surprising when they won only three of six ballots in their preliminary competition – the minimum required to move forward.
“At last year’s nationals they won every round in the preliminaries, one of only six teams to do so,” said Esler, ultimately earning Berger and Herbert a 17th-place national finish. “But they were undaunted, knew what they had to do, and took care of business with the determination that has characterized their performance throughout their moot career. They proceeded to win three consecutive rounds against higher-ranked teams, including two of the nation’s top-ranked teams.”
Esler also noted that Wesleyan was one of the two smallest schools in the country to advance a team as far as the tournament’s round of 16, “and a lot of the other teams that were eliminated were pulling for us. It was very exciting.”
Berger, who has been participating in moot court since her freshman year, called the annual competition “the defining experience of my college career.”
“The adrenaline that you feel when you are standing in front of established legal professionals and being battered with questions, yet have the confidence that you know the answers and can hold your own, is incredible,” said Berger, a resident of Sunbury, who will pursue a future career as litigator at the trial or appellate level.
Herbert, who began competing as a junior, said the competition has significantly sharpened her public-speaking skills and her overall comfort in being in front of an audience.
“The most rewarding part of moot court is seeing all of the hard work you have poured into your outline and preparation pay off when you win a round against a team you didn’t think you would beat,” said Herbert, a resident of Mentor, Ohio, who hopes to become a state prosecuting attorney.
In addition to Berger and Herbert, Ohio Wesleyan junior Forest Dearing of Louisville, Kentucky, and sophomore Chloe Dyer of Guysville, Ohio, also advanced from regional competition to the national finals.
“Neither had competed prior to this year, so to reach the finals was remarkable,” said Esler, also an OWU professor of politics and government. “Dearing’s skill at answering questions and engaging the judges in a conversational manner was outstanding, [and] Dyer’s knowledge of the case law was second to none, and she displayed it in her oral arguments. They will be returning next year with high expectations.”
Esler said Ohio Wesleyan has had moot court team members qualify for the national championship for five consecutive years. “This year’s teams were uniformly the hardest-working group that I have coached in moot court,” he said. “This year’s case was probably the most complicated and difficult we have had, so I appreciated the fact that they were willing to put in the effort and work together so well.”
The American Collegiate Moot Court Association is the premier moot court competition for undergraduates, Esler said, simulating an appellate court hearing in which teams of two “attorneys” argue constitutional issues before a panel of lawyers and judges who portray Supreme Court justices. This year’s issues involved the free exercise of religion and equal protection rights of undocumented persons in the country illegally.