Harvard Law School Hosts National Animal Advocacy Competitions

Posted on July 18, 2008

By: Rita Lomio

The Record, The Independent Newspaper at Harvard Law School

Does
animal fighting, such as cockfighting, "substantially affect interstate
commerce"? What liability, if any, should an individual have for
shooting and killing her neighbor’s dog when the dog is on her
property? How should damages be calculated?

In
February, law students from all over the country debated those
questions at the fourth annual National Animal Advocacy Competitions
(NAAC). NAAC, hosted by the HLS Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, was
organized by the National Center for Animal Law. NAAC includes both a
moot court competition and a closing argument competition.

NAAC drew a diverse group of students looking to
improve their oral advocacy and writing skills. Moot court competitor
Victoria Schwartz (HLS 3L), for example, noted that writing the
appellate brief and participating in oral argument will assist her in
her legal career. Next year, she will be clerking for the Ninth Circuit
and she hopes to continue with appellate law. Schwartz and partner
Kenneth Stalter (HLS 3L), won the NAAC Best Brief for Appellants award.

Many participants were particularly drawn to the
animal law aspect of NAAC. Alexandra Freidberg, a moot court
semifinalist from the George Washington University Law School who is
interested in practicing animal law, for example, applauded the
networking opportunities afforded by NAAC. Among the judges were
administrative law judge Sarah Luick, animal rights lawyer Steven Wise,
and Amy Trakinski, partner with Egert & Trakinski, New York. Jeff
Welty, adjunct professor of law at Duke Law School and founder of Duke
Law’s Animal Law Clinic, remarked that NAAC "is like a family reunion
for those of us who have been involved in animal law for years, and at
the same time, it’s an opportunity to see young animal lawyers spread
their wings. It’s just a great event, and it’s so inspiring to see how
much work the students have put in and how capable they are."

Between posters explaining various aspects of law
and in front of a screen displaying a photograph of a police officer
with his German Shepherd, students competed in the closing argument
competition. The case involved a police officer seeking $145,000 in
economic and non-economic damages from a neighbor who had shot and
killed his retired police dog. John Anderson (University of Nebraska
College of Law) beat out finalists Kevin VanLandingham (Harvard Law
School 2L), Matt Wechter (Chapman University School of Law), and
Katherine Lin (Lewis & Clark Law School) to take home the first
place prize.

In
the moot court competit­ion, teams debated whether Congress had exceeded
its authority under the Commerce Clause in enacting the fictional
Federal Animal Fighting Act of 2006 and whether the plaintiffs’ claim
was sufficiently ripe to support the district court’s exercise of
jurisdiction. Teams from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the George
Washington University School Law School, Harvard Law School, University
of Miami School of Law, University of Nebraska College of Law,
University of Oregon School of Law, University of Washington School of
Law, Western State University College of Law, and Widener University
School of Law, as well as two teams each from Lewis & Clark Law
School, Temple University Beasley School of Law, and UC Berkeley Boalt
Hall School of Law, competed. A team from Lewis & Clark Law School
won first place.

An unusual aspect of the moot court competition
required participants to argue both sides of the case: in the two
preliminary rounds, each team argued once for the appellants and once
for the appellee. Schwartz remarked that this aspect of the competition
was challenging "because it is hard to get into the appropriate frame
of mind to be able to convincingly argue both sides . . . Having
briefed one side, I was so convinced that, when it came time to prepare
for the oral argument for the opposing side, I intellectually really
struggled to shake loose the positions of which I had convinced
myself." Overall, she found the process a "great mental exercise."

Marissa Dirks (HLS 1L), who volunteered as a
timekeeper, was impressed by the ability of participants to quickly
switch from one side to another: "I heard both sides argued several
times, often by the same people! It’s amazing how convincing they can
be when you know they said the exact opposite just as well an hour
before!" Dirks also noted that listening to the judges give detailed
feedback to all participants was both interesting and useful for future
moot court competitions.

NAAC was partially funded by the Bob Barker Fund
for the Study of Animal Rights at Harvard Law School. The Bob Barker
Fund will also be supporting the upcoming Future of Animal Law
conference, which will be held at Harvard Law School March 30 through
April 1.


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