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Thursday, January 30, 2014

U.S. Solicitor General Critiques Winning Moot Court Team

Students get advocacy tips from Obama administration’s top litigator.
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U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. offers tips to UC Hastings Moot Court team.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr. offered tips and tactics to one of UC Hastings’ most formidable Moot Court teams during a daylong visit to the College Jan. 29.

He served as a distinguished guest judge at one of the final team practices for 3L Michael LaFond, 3L Sean Juarez and 3L Nicholas Yu.

Verrilli was an avid questioner, complete with arching eyebrows, of LaFond and Yu, who will compete in the National Moot Court Competition in February in New York. The students argued a hypothetical case that involved potential First Amendment and Commerce Clause violations by a fictional state, Old York.

Joining Verrilli on the Moot Court bench as mock Supreme Court justices were Stephen Tollafield, Associate Director of Legal Writing & Moot Court, and 3L Moot Court Board Co-Chairs David Chang and Cassandra Shryock.

In his post-argument feedback, Verrilli coached LaFond and Yu on their presentations and offered rhetorical tips. In particular, he provided valuable insight into interpreting a judge’s questions to make on-the-fly strategic decisions during an argument.

Overall, the students earned high marks. “You have mastered the art of distilling your argument down to the fewest possible words,” Verrilli said. He also offered tips on pacing. “The longer you hang in there on something that seems like a very aggressive position, the more you are dissipating rather than building your momentum.”

Before the session, Verrilli had lunch with the Moot Court board, and students peppered him with questions about his career and tenure at the Justice Department.

"A Lawyer's Lawyer"

Verrilli, who successfully argued in support of the Affordable Care Act at the U.S. Supreme Court, has been called a “lawyer’s lawyer.” The New York Times noted that “he isn’t showy, but he is a deeply experienced and capable advocate who finds ways to make technical legal arguments that persuade a majority of justices.”

The college’s ceremonial courtroom, the Justice Marvin and Jane Baxter Appellate Law Center, was packed with students and alumni, including Nathan Quigley ’05, who serves as one of the team’s alumni mentors along with David Kestenbaum ’07.

1L Anthony Roselli, who is taking Moot Court this semester, appreciated the chance to see the Solicitor General in action. “This was a unique opportunity to see someone with this level of experience, and hear him judge the students’ arguments,” Roselli said.

Later in the day, Verrilli was interviewed by Professor Rory Little for "Legally Speaking," co-sponsored with California Lawyer. He mingled with students at a reception following the program. 

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