SECOND-YEAR DICKINSON LAW STUDENTS NAMED TOP APPELLATE ADVOCATES
Rachel Wilcove and Michaela Zanis win intraschool moot court competition
November 5, 2020 — Rachel Wilcove and Michaela Zanis, second-year law students at Dickinson Law, were awarded the Christian R. Burne (class of 2017) Award for claiming the championship round of the Triston “Chase” O’Savio Moot Court Competition held on Friday, October 30, inside the Apfelbaum Family Courtroom and Auditorium at Dickinson Law. Zanis also received the Francesca M. Kester (class of 2017) Most Valuable Oralist Award.
Both awards were established by the 2018 Moot Court Board in recognition of the excellence in advocacy and leadership that Burne and Kester demonstrated during their time as law students at Dickinson Law.
Wilcove and Zanis argued as petitioner and defeated fellow second-year law students Brian Chin and Ryan LaMar in the championship round, which was judged by Federal Public Defender for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Heidi Freese (class of 2001), Pennsylvania Superior Court Judge Victor P. Stabile (class of 1982), and United States Judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania Judge Jennifer P. Wilson.
“It is a huge honor to be recognized as the Law School’s top appellate advocates,” said Wilcove. “We argued against some brilliant teams throughout the competition. Moreover, it felt so rewarding to argue before Ms. Freese, Judge Stabile and Judge Wilson. They are highly accomplished individuals who have so much valuable experience as judges and attorneys.”
Hosted by Dickinson Law’s Moot Court Board, the annual competition — named after Triston “Chase” O’Savio (class of 2018) for starting the event during his third year of law school — is open to second- and third-year law students and provides junior advocates the practice, training and resources needed to succeed in competitions each spring.
“Students get to showcase their public speaking skills on a platform that is a competitive yet safe space by participating in this competition,” said O’Savio, who serves as an adjunct professor of law at Dickinson Law. “It is a great opportunity to gain practical experience in an area of law that only few lawyers experience throughout their careers and to network with leaders in the legal field.”
Because the competition takes place during the fall semester of students’ second year of law school, most have not been exposed to or have had the opportunity to participate in moot court competitions.
“The intraschool competition sets apart second-year law students at Dickinson Law because they are provided the opportunity to compete and begin building and refining their oral advocacy skills a year before many other law students,” said Moot Court Board Vice Chair Mimi Miller (class of 2021).
Prior to competing, participants attend “Moot Camp” — an annual training that serves as a brief introduction to written and oral appellate arguments and introduces the participants to the existing Moot Court Board members. This year, Moot Camp was redesigned by Miller, Recruitment Chair Shaivya Singh (class of 2021) and Intraschool Competition Chair Aaron Gallagher (class of 2021) to provide a more holistic experience for the competitors. Miller worked with the board to develop a program of events and gave a presentation to the competitors designed to introduce them to appellate arguments.
Assistant Professor of Law Mohamed Rali Badissy, who serves as the board’s faculty adviser, said, “The Moot Court Board set out to design an intraschool moot court competition that provided students with an opportunity to develop their oral advocacy skills through coaching and competition. I think they were successful in that effort and were ultimately able to put on a competition that was safe, exciting, and a highlight of the semester.”
Wilcove and Zanis prepared for the competition by meeting with Singh, who coached them throughout the competition, to run through arguments several times leading up to the first round.
“Shaivya was an enormous help to both of us and provided helpful feedback that allowed us to be prepared for the actual competition,” said Wilcove. “Michaela and I also ran through our arguments with each other and collaborated throughout the whole process.”
O’Savio noted that the skill level he witnessed at this year’s competition was inspiring. “I was impressed with the competitors' ability to think on their feet and explain complex legal arguments to a panel of judges.”
“Their magnificent performances are especially impressive because of the difficulty posed by the health restrictions on practices and arguments and other unusual stressors present this year,” said Miller.
“I think the most enjoyable aspect was being able to showcase what we have learned through all of our preparation and weaving together counterarguments and answers to judges’ questions to strengthen our own case,” said Zanis.
“Moot court requires its own skill set, and I feel like I really got the opportunity to hone my oral argument skills and get a greater sense of what appellate advocacy entails,” said Wilcove. “I enjoyed getting the chance to compete against our incredible classmates and seeing how all our hard work came together.”
Zanis said that competing in this competition solidified how much she wants to pursue a career in criminal litigation. “I am excited to continue to build upon the skills I learned for this competition to best represent my future clients.”