Third-Year Law Students Win National Championship in Country’s Largest Moot Court Competition

Third-year law students Justin Lepp, Nick Rosinia, and Mikela Sutrina recently made history by becoming the first Washington University School of Law team to win the American Bar Association’s National Appellate Advocacy Competition, the largest and most competitive moot court competition in the country.

The students went a combined 11-0 in the Seattle Regional and National Final en route to the championship, surpassing 209 other teams from 118 law schools. Rosinia and Sutrina also received individual recognition as the second- and third-ranked speakers overall in the six rounds of the National Final.

“Our success can be attributed to three things: the incredible talent of my teammates, the passion and skill of our coach, and the support of the law school community, including other students, professors, and alumni,” Lepp said. “Winning the national championship proves what we have all known for a while, that Wash U trains advocates who know how to win.”

Lepp, Rosinia, and Sutrina were crowned the champions by a final-round panel that included Seventh Circuit Judge John D. Tinder and U.S. District Court Judges Edmond E. Chang, John W. Darrah, and Charles P. Kocoras. The final round was held in the ceremonial courtroom of the Supreme Court of Illinois in Chicago.

“This was the very best final round in this competition in recent memory,” said Larry Bates, chair of the committee that administers the ABA Competition.

Rosinia observed, "Competing in the final round was an unforgettable experience, but one that Coach Finneran prepared us for from the very beginning. With his principled guidance, our preparation replaced nerves with confidence—allowing us to relish the judges' questions and enjoy our time at the podium. It was the perfect culminating experience to a terrific three years at Washington University School of Law, and one I will carry with me whenever I step foot in a courtroom in the future."

Much like mock trials simulate the trial court experience, moot court simulates the exercise of arguing an appeal before the United States Supreme Court. This year’s ABA problem focused on the fictional case of a child with severe autism named Ryan Reed, who had been denied coverage for an expensive medical treatment. In the final round, Rosinia and Sutrina petitioned on behalf of Reed, arguing that his private insurer and the fictional state of Texifornia were obligated to pay for the treatment under both the Wellstone Act and federal Medicaid law.

“There is no more coveted or elusive prize in the moot court world than the ABA National Championship,” said Professor Richard Finneran, JD ’08, who coaches Lepp, Rosinia, and Sutrina along with nine other students on Washington University’s National Moot Court Team. “This victory solidifies our team’s status as the premier moot court program in the country.”

In the preceding five years, the National Moot Court Team had advanced five teams to the quarterfinals of the ABA competition—a feat matched by no other team in the country—but until now had never eclipsed that mark. The team also competes annually in the William E. McGee National Civil Rights Competition, where it has won three national championships in the past four years.

The National Moot Court Team selects 12 students each year from the second- and third-year classes to compete in the ABA and McGee competitions. Students work together to draft written briefs over winter break and typically practice two to three times a week in the spring semester to prepare for the competition. Advancement in the competitions is based upon a combined score that considers both their written work product and the evaluation of their oral arguments by a panel of judges, usually comprised of local practitioners.

“As exciting as it is to win, the true value of the competition is in the practical skills it teaches the students who participate,” said Finneran, who himself participated in the ABA competition when he was a student at Washington University. “When these students stand up as young lawyers to argue their first motion in a trial court, they will have the same confidence that carried them to the pinnacle of this competition.”

Lepp, Rosinia, and Sutrina are no strangers to winning championships. Rosinia and Sutrina were part of the team that won the McGee National Civil Rights Competition last spring, and Sutrina and Lepp joined forces last fall to claim victory in Washington University’s Wiley Rutledge Moot Court Competition.

“Moot court has undoubtedly been the highlight of my law school career,” Sutrina said. “It has been simultaneously the most challenging and most rewarding experience. I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to work alongside incredibly talented peers and learn from them about teamwork, competition, and friendship. Additionally, we have been mentored by dedicated and brilliant coaches who taught us how to not only reach the peak of our abilities, but how to truly fly above that."