JANUARY 16, 2013
ATLANTA – In November, 2012, Georgia State University College of Law Student Health Law Association (SHLA) sent a team of three law students to the National Health Law Moot Court Competition which is hosted by Southern Illinois University School of Law, the School of Medicine, Department of Medical Humanities and the American College of Legal Medicine and the ACLM Foundation. The Moot Court Program at the law school also sent a second team of students.
Over the summer, SHLA accepted applications and selected three rising second-year students based on a writing sample and interest in health law. In July, SHLA announced the team: Alecia McFarlane, Samuel Shapiro, and Robert Springer. Michael Arndt, also a second-year student, was named the team’s coach.
The competition problem was issued in August. For five weeks, the team pored through the relevant law. The problem asked whether the Constitution affords a right to confidentiality in medical records. “I was surprised that such a simple prompt could raise so many legal issues,” Robert Springer explained. “At first, our research yielded only more topics to research.” With time, the team was able to narrow their focus and construct arguments.
“I have to hand it to these students,” said Professor Jessie Gabel, who served as the faculty advisor and organized weekly meetings to discuss the team’s progress. “The problem they were presented with was difficult on a good day. Without a lot of case law for guidance they did a tremendous job in formulating arguments and creating a persuasive brief.”
McFarlane pieced together the required brief. “Group writing is always difficult because styles vary,” she laughed. “Sammy would start slowly and build while Robert constantly attacked the other side. Both write well—they’re just different.” Incorporating everyone’s styles, McFarlane produced a draft. The group made final edits and sent the brief off in late September.
The team then had eleven practice rounds of oral arguments in October to gear up for the competition. Practice rounds are “benched” - a person playing the role of the appellate judge asks team members questions during their arguments. Roger Martin, partner at Hall Booth Smith, P.C., benched one of the first rounds. “The benefit of having practicing attorneys volunteer is that they have recent courtroom experience,” said Arndt. “Roger Martin provided critical feedback on the mechanics of oral presentation and his advice about courtroom presence stuck with the team throughout the practice rounds and into the competition.”
Practice rounds with practicing attorneys such as Martin are a rare luxury, so most rounds were benched by students. “Everyone is extremely busy during law school, so the number of students willing to take a few hours solely to help us out is impressive and speaks volume about our school,” Springer said.
Professors Patrick Wiseman, Eric Segall and Lauren Lucas benched rounds for the SHLA team in addition to the Moot Court team. “The rounds with faculty really sharpened, and occasionally restructured, our arguments,” Shapiro explained. “Professor Wiseman made sure you went from A to B to C, Professor Segall reminded us that people’s lives were at stake, and Professor Lucas forced us to consider the interplay of the arguments.”
Reflected Arndt, “It was interesting to see how arguments changed over the practice rounds. The team was incredibly adept in incorporating or addressing criticisms from previous benchers.”
The practice paid off: Springer finished with the eighth best oral advocacy score out of 70 competitors, and the team advanced to the quarterfinals before losing to the eventual champion Loyola University Chicago School of Law. “Their dedication and commitment to working through all of the issues and nuances paved the way for their success in a historically challenging competition,” said Gabel.
Shapiro provided perspective, “As representatives of the SHLA at a school with the second best health law program in the nation, we wanted to make a strong showing. Not one but two GSU teams advanced to the quarterfinals, laying the groundwork for future success.”
Next year’s competition will again be held at Southern Illinois University School of Law. All three SHLA team members indicated their willingness to stay involved and contribute to next year’s team.
Stacie P. Kershner, JD
Associate Director, Center for Law, Health & Society