Among its numerous claims to fame, Wabash prides itself on its legal community, having shaped and educated outstanding lawyers for generations dating back to the College’s founding. Wabash has developed a stellar reputation for creating prominent attorneys in Indiana.
Rigorous coursework and stellar faculty shape passionate students into capable graduates, who then give back time and opportunities to future generations of pre-law students. One of the most distinct ways Wabash prepares its students for law school is its Moot Court competition, a common occurrence in graduate programs, but a rarity at the undergraduate level.
At its core, Moot Court is an oral argument competition that simulates a U.S. Supreme Court case. Just like in real life, albeit shortened for time, competitors advocate both sides of a contentious and complex issue before a panel of judges. Several weeks before competing, students are provided with their only preparation material: a mock brief that has been carefully edited down from a contemporary case on the Supreme Court’s docket.
However, while the competition is framed as a legal question, anyone can participate and get valuable experience for any situation. Professor of Rhetoric Jeff Drury is one of the event’s key organizers, and firmly believes in the multidisciplinary benefits of competing. “Moot Court is a chance to hone public speaking and advocacy skills, which you need in any situation,” said Drury. “The main experience is having the judges ask you questions about the case. Anyone who’s going to interview for a job or grad school is going to benefit from that experience. Because your feet are held to the fire, you have to think on your feet to answer the question, which is an invaluable skill in today’s business world.”
The question presented to competitors is the most important First Amendment dilemma facing the 21st century: do social media companies have the editorial right to censor users’ speech? Or rather, are these platforms required to host all speech, functioning like an authentic public forum?
30 contestants grappled with this question in Baxter Hall on the morning of Saturday, October 21 during the preliminary round. From there, 12 semifinalists advanced to the second round, and four finalists vied for the top spot in the final round of competition in Salter Hall on Thursday, October 26. Finalists included Gabriel Pirtle ’25, Andrew Dever ’25, Seth Kirkpatrick ’24 and Liam Grennon ’24.
Judges at each round of the competition included judges and attorneys, many of whom were Wabash alumni. Faculty members also served on judging panels, including faculty from political science, rhetoric and philosophy.
Coming out on top was Seth Kirkpatrick ’24, rhetoric major and 2022 joint champion. Despite his victory, Kirkpatrick acknowledges the difficulty of the competition.
“It was difficult, because First Amendment case law is incredibly detailed and complex, yet simultaneously vague and broad,” said Kirkpatrick.
While it may be easy to become absorbed in the competitive aspect of Moot Court, Kirkpatrick has not lost sight of the fundamental reasons for competing: developing the important skills that will carry into law school and beyond.
“I think it just shows me how to keep composure, and it takes a lot of analytical skills too,” said Kirkpatrick. “I’m just over-prepared for persuasion in day to day life. I think in law school, I’ll be well prepared for when those Moot Court competitions happen.”
Faculty organizers also echo the educational value of such a challenging experience. Moot Court has a reputation for being challenging, but attracts repeat competitors, with some returning all four years.
“Seeing students improve and progress through the three or four years they compete is really rewarding because it shows that there is value here and that students really mature and grow,” said Drury.
Looking forward to next year’s Moot Court, Kirkpatrick offered some key advice for the next batch of competitors.
“Don’t be on the defensive,” said Kirkpatrick. “Don’t be on the offensive. Don’t be on anything. Just treat it like you’re having a conversation. No judge is out there to get you.”
While Kirkpatrick will not remain to participate in the 2024 Moot Court competition, the future is bright for him nonetheless. Kirkpatrick is currently applying to law schools across the nation, with plans to become an environmental lawyer. Yet again, Wabash men push themselves to take on great challenges that will equip them for even greater success after graduation.