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Students Showcase Litigation Skills to Cap First-Year Program

Reid Mullen ‘08, Maren Christensen ‘13, Grace Shigetani ‘14, Alex Li ‘14, lecturer Michelle Cole

Students recently tested their powers of persuasion during oral arguments to cap the First Year Skills Program. One group matched wits inside the James R. Browning Courthouse in San Francisco—headquarters of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the other at Berkeley Law.

It marked the seventh consecutive year that Berkeley Law students presented oral arguments inside the Ninth Circuit Court. “Although at first I felt intimidated by the prospect of arguing in an actual federal courthouse, it was one of the best experiences of my first year,” said student Samuel José Díaz ’14.

The First Year Skills Program includes a fall semester Legal Research and Writing course and a Written and Oral Advocacy course in the spring. The fall course introduces the basics of the court system, teaching students how to read cases, locate and select precedent, and construct legal arguments. The spring course prepares students to represent a plaintiff or defendant, write a motion or response, and argue the merits before a ‘judge’—usually a practicing lawyer and Berkeley Law graduate.

This year’s students tackled a hypothetical case dealing with California’s statutory right of publicity. The issue concerned whether a retailer’s use of Woody Allen’s image on a billboard was protected speech, or an exploitive advertisement. The problem was based on a real case, filed in New York, which settled before trial.

Berkeley Law faculty member Wayne Brazil ’75 served as one of the judges. The former federal magistrate praised the students for their “amazing command of the relevant cases and facile ability” to elicit arguments. The quality of the presentations “exceeded by a considerable margin most of the performances I saw from ‘real’ lawyers in real cases,” he said.

The top performers took part in a subsequent series of arguments, sponsored by the student-run Board of Advocates. In three rounds of competition, Collin Tierney ’14 and James Unger ’14 received the highest scores and squared off in the final argument at Booth Auditorium. Tierney won the case in a close verdict by a judges’ panel of Brazil, Appellate Program Director William Fernholz ’93, and instructor and Judicial Staff Attorney Mary Pat Dooley.

An impressive group of Berkeley Law alumni served as volunteer judges for the oral arguments, including: Jeff Brax ’01, David Carrillo '95, Steven Friedlander ’90, Sarah Grossman-Swenson ’08, Aimee Halbert ’11, Anne Hawkins ’00, Jayni Hein ’08, Andrew Jacobson ’90, Nan Joesten ’97, Trish Keady '08, David Kemp ’11, Shawn Lichaa ’07, Jim Luhmann ’90, Casey McTigue ’09, Reid Mullen ’08, Marc Pilotin ’09, Jess Brown Redditt '09, Steven Sassaman ’08, Nisha Shah ’05, Rishi Sharma ’05, Michael Stern ’83, Matt Valdez ’11, David Van Etten ’08, Kenneth Wilson ’87, and Danny Zlatnik ’08.

Photo: Volunteer judge Reid Mullen '08, teaching assistant Maren Christensen '13, participants Grace Shigetani '14 and Alex Li '14, and lecturer in residence Michelle Cole.