Undergraduates Raise the Bar with Moot Court Success

Moot court

From left: Hope Steffenson, political science senior; Anne Dutia, director of the Pre-Law Advising and Resource Center and Moot Court coach; and Nancy Fairbank, political science senior, listen as student lawyers make arguments in a hypothetical case challenging the constitutionality of a voter ID law.

Inside a Texas courtroom replica on campus, student lawyers took turns approaching the bench to make arguments about the constitutionality of a hypothetical voter ID law.

Political science senior Derek Tallent addressed a panel of justices — his professor and two classmates.

“The petitioner would argue that voting is in fact expressive conduct and should fall under First Amendment protections,” he said, citing several relevant court decisions.

Moot Court at UT Dallas gives students an opportunity to sharpen their skills and practice for competitions in an authentic courtroom setting. The courtroom replica, housed in the Founders Building, is named for Dr. Anthony Champagne, professor emeritus of political science.

Moot Court participants must prepare arguments on both sides of a case in a procedure modeled after federal appellate practice. Anne Dutia, director of the Pre-Law Advising and Resource Center and Moot Court coach, instructs the team members.

This school year, students won several awards in regional and national competitions.


Political science senior Derek Tallent makes his case before the judge’s panel in Moot Court class. The class, held in a Texas courtroom replica, helps students prepare for competitions and builds skills to help them succeed in law school.

Political science seniors Hope Steffensen and Nancy Fairbank advanced as a team to the final round at the Windy City Regional Tournament in Chicago. They also competed against 80 teams in the American Moot Court Association National Tournament at Stetson Law School in Gulfport, Florida. They placed in the top 16, putting them among the top 5 percent of teams nationwide.

Tallent won a speaker award at the Texas Undergraduate Moot Court Association Moot Court Invitational at UNT Dallas College of Law. Tallent, Dalton Owens, an accounting sophomore, and Anastasia Zaluckyj, a historical studies junior, received speaker awards at the South Texas Regional Tournament at Texas A&M Law School.

Steffensen said Moot Court has given her experience she could not have gotten in a traditional classroom, including the ability to get feedback on her arguments.

Steffensen, a National Merit Scholar, and Fairbank, a McDermott Scholar, have been accepted to several top law schools with significant merit scholarships. Fairbank also is the first UT Dallas student in more than 10 years to win a prestigious Marshall Scholarship.

“Because of my experiences in Moot Court and Ms. Dutia’s excellent coaching, I feel more prepared and confident to enter law school,” Fairbank said. “My research and public speaking skills, as well as my ability to come up with creative arguments, have all improved.”

Moot Court is one of UT Dallas’ three legal advocacy programs that compete against other college teams throughout the country. Dutia said the class makes students better critical thinkers and develops their logical reasoning and public speaking skills.

“If students have already learned how to read and brief cases and construct persuasive arguments and counterarguments, they will be ahead of many of their peers who did not have that experience before law school,” said Dutia, who used to work as assistant director of admissions at the University of Michigan Law School. “Also, while law schools weigh many factors in making their admissions decisions, Steffensen’s acceptance to one of the most competitive schools in the country specifically mentioned her participation in Moot Court as having been impressive to the admissions committee.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].

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