Published: March 15, 2013

Smith wins best oralist

Surbhi Garg (’13) and Kayla Smith (’13) won the 2013 Rothgerber Moot Court Competition, arguing before a prestigious panel of judges.

“It was really intense,” Garg said. “But the learning experience has been amazing.”

Held on Monday, February 25th in the Wittemyer Courtroom, Garg and Smith teamed up against Tim Galluzzi ('13) and Martina Hinojosa ('13) to argue a fictional case about free speech. Galluzzi and Hinojosa represented the publishers of a manual detailing how to commit murder, while Garg and Smith represented the families of victims murdered by a man who purchased the book. The question turned on whether the book was protected speech under the First Amendment. 

These four law students argued in front of an impressive panel of judges, including:

  • The Honorable Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • The Honorable Paul Watford, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
  • The Honorable Diane Wood, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Smith, awarded best oralist, said she and Garg spent at least 100 hours preparing for the competition.

“I’ll have an answer for any question I think they’re going to ask,” Smith said. “Surbhi and I practiced a lot asking each other really tough questions.”

Both sides displayed thorough preparation in their arguments, while the active panel of judges fired off thoughtful and challenging questions. Judge Kozinski, known for his witty opinions, brought a particularly lively repartee into the courtroom.

“I don’t think anyone could have prepared for that,” Smith said. “When I heard (the questions), I realized it wasn’t going to be anything like I expected.” 

Garg echoed Smith’s surprise, saying the panel was much more engaged in questioning than expected. Judge Kozinski asked Garg during arguments why she thought the book had no social value, comparing the manual to the sale of Sudafed–a beneficial medicine until someone chooses to use it in the creation of methamphetamine. 

“I realized I wasn’t going to be able to say any of my arguments,” Garg said. “You just frame your answers in a way that answered part of their question, but fit in part of what you wanted to talk about.” 

While in mock trial students may not know which side they represent until the day of the competition, moot court teams are assigned a side in advance of the competition.  The teams then research the issue, write appellate briefs, and present oral arguments in front of a panel of judges. 

“Moot court is a lot more focused on the law,” Smith said. “While mock trial is a lot more focused on the facts and explaining things to a jury.”

Garg describes moot court competitions in similar terms, calling it a mock trial competition for the appellate level.

“It’s much more of a conversation than a presentation,” Garg said. “In a trial, you have your witnesses and what you want to ask them.  In moot court, you learn as much as you can about a subject and explain to the judge your side of it.”

Both students indicated that their interest in moot court stemmed from appellate advocacy, a mandatory class for all 1L students. 

“Moot court wasn’t something I expected to be interested in,” Smith said. “So pursue every opportunity that comes your way. You get to learn a lot of really interesting areas of the law that way.” 

For students looking to get involved with moot court, both Smith and Garg advise watching the real thing.

“Watch a real appellate argument if you can,” Garg said. “And pay attention in appellate advocacy. Try out for moot court your 2L year, even if you aren't sure you want to do it because it is a great opportunity, and it is so nice that we get a class credit for doing moot court.” 

After graduating this spring, Smith will join McKenna Long & Aldridge in Denver to work in government contracts, while Garg is hoping to start her career as a litigator.