HLS students win national ABA moot court competition

Phil Telfeyan '08 during the competition

Phil Telfeyan ’08 during the competition

Phil Telfeyan ’08 and Elizabeth Barchas ’08 recently won the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition, finishing in first place as national champions. The ABA competition is the largest and most competitive moot court tournament in the country, with a field of 179 teams representing law schools from across the nation. The competition began last November, when each team received the materials and began writing a brief for a hypothetical appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

“This has really been an amazing experience—I never dreamed that we would have done so well,” said Telfeyan. “I feel lucky to have had such a great teammate; Elizabeth was really great to work with.”

Telfeyan and Barchas submitted their 42-page Supreme Court-style brief in January, and the original field of 179 teams competed in regional competitions with oral argument throughout the month of March. Telfeyan and Barchas represented HLS at the New York regional, which was held in the federal courthouse for the Eastern District of New York. Amidst a field of 31 teams in their region and approximately 75 competitors, Telfeyan and Barchas excelled. They went a perfect 5 – 0 in the region, finishing with the highest oral argument scores of any team and emerging as Regional Champions, thus earning an invitation to compete in the National Finals in Chicago.

Telfeyan and Barchas were also both honored with Best Oralist awards, which were given to the ten best advocates in the region. The 25 Regional Champions met in Chicago to compete for the National Championship from April 3 through April 5. The early stages for the national rounds were held in the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago (where the Seventh Circuit sits, along with the federal district court). The initial two rounds, held on April 3, were guaranteed for each team; the teams were required to alternate sides during the competition, arguing one round as petitioner and one round as respondent. Telfeyan and Barchas won both their rounds, improving their record to 7 – 0 and making the cut for the final 16 teams. Once the field was trimmed to 16 teams, the single-elimination bracketed tournament began. The HLS pair continued its success during the elimination rounds, winning all three of its arguments on April 4. A series of coin flips had them argue each of their three rounds on Friday as petitioner. By the end of the day, they were one of only two teams left from the original 179 teams in the tournament, earning an invitation to compete for the National Championship on the morning of April 5.

The National Championship round was held at the Supreme Court of Illinois courtroom before a distinguished panel of judges, including Abner Mikva (former Chief Judge of the D.C. Circuit), Michael Kanne (federal appellate judge on the Seventh Circuit), Mary McDade (presiding justice on the Illinois Court of Appeals), Tim Bertschy (member of the ABA Board of Governors), and Ann O’Connell (practicing attorney at Covington and Burling in Washington D.C. and the author of the case being argued). A coin flip had Telfeyan and Barchas arguing their final round as petitioner—the results were not announced until several hours later at the ABA awards banquet. When the announcement finally came, Harvard was pronounced as the winner, finishing with a perfect 11 – 0 record and, more importantly, as national champions. Telfeyan and Barchas were greeted with a standing ovation from the 25 Regional Champions as they received their awards. Both Telfeyan and Barchas have succeeded in prior moot court competitions. Each was an oralist in the late rounds of last year’s Ames competition (Telfeyan was a semi-finalist; Barchas was a finalist). Additionally, Telfeyan has now competed in the ABA competition for three consecutive years and has won best oralist honors in all three years. This year is the first time Harvard has won the national championship in the 31-year history of the ABA competition.