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Dear University of Houston Law Center & Blakely Advocacy Institute:

The purpose of this open letter is to inform you, institutions which surely have an
interest in building credibility, that you may be ill-advised to continue in your
attempt to brand your so-called Moot Court National Championship as follows:

The Championship: A Moot Court Competition to determine the “best of the best” Moot
Court programs.  http://www.law.uh.edu/blakely/mcnc/homepage.html.

So, who am I, and what gives me the right?

Recently, when National Jurist magazine profiled the competitive world of fake
appellate advocacy (moot court), my ranking was mentioned in the breath before yours.  
National Jurist, September 2011, p. 26, “What Makes a Moot Court Champion?” http://www.
nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/cypress/nationaljurist0911/#/26.

I wouldn’t have an issue if your slogan acknowledged that your invitational
competition merely crowns the “best
team out of those showing up.”  But the best
program (out of 100+)? You're not even close.

Perhaps the most concerning thing about your slogan is that it operates to exclude
South Texas (it not having won “The Championship”), which has always been, without
question, the best moot court program.  

Why does that concern me? Well… doesn’t Houston compete directly with Houston-based
South Texas for exactly the same students? And now the University of Houston, forever
living in the shadow of South Texas’ moot court program, has for three years straight
managed to crown a “best moot court program” other than South Texas?

Most if not all program directors would admit that South Texas has had the best moot
court program for a long time.  Texas Tech’s advocacy director, Professor Robert
Sherwin, has written that South Texas boasts “the most successful moot court program
of all time (by a long shot).”  http://www.thebenchbrief.com/2009/03/ranker-is-now-
blogger.html.  In fact, it was the first U.S. law school to win 100 advocacy titles.  
http://www.setexasrecord.com/news/211018-south-texas-college-of-law-first-in-u.s.-to-
win-100-national-advocacy-titles.  And yet, Houston has never crowned it the best moot
court program.  By contrast, my ranking, which aggregates each program’s top finishes
(across teams), has recognized South Texas as the best moot court program four years
running.  

Houston might more credibly name “the best moot court program,” if all of the top
programs each sent several teams to your invitational competition.  However, first,
many programs don’t accept your invitations; and second, those accepting their invites
are sending “representatives” of varying levels of excellence.  

With respect to the former – that is, top programs not sending any team – how can
Houston lay claim to anything at all when WUSTL and UC Hastings haven’t regularly
attended? It’s as if Houston would have crowned the Patriots Super Bowl Champions
without having them first compete against the Giants for the honor.

Regarding the latter – participating programs not sending their very best teams –
Texas Tech’s advocacy director, Professor Robert Sherwin, has admitted “…I send my
very best team to the NMCC and ABA NAAC…”  See, http://therankerblog.blogspot.
com/2010/03/ranker-v-bench-brief.html.  I imagine there are a significant number of
programs that don’t send their very best team to Houston.  

Why should they? In arriving at its list of invitees, Houston first ranks the
programs; in doing so, it stratifies the competitions by prestige (ABA NAAC and NMCC
chief among them).  So to be invited to your "Championship," programs will target with
their very best teams the ABA NAAC and NMCC, sending their lesser teams to your so-
called Championship.  

In addition, NMCC occurs at approximately the same time as your “Championship.”  
Perhaps the lesser of your invitees, like DePaul, which has no hope of ever winning
either NMCC or ABA NAAC, would send their very best teams to Houston; however, this is
unfair to your other participants, many of which are competitive at one or both of the
historically prestigious affairs mentioned above.     

Regardless of timing, moot court programs have limited budgets.  Thus, in order for
Program X to be crowned “best of the best,” it could be forced to skip the
competitions you deem prestigious, ABA NAAC and/or NYC Bar NMC.  Why skip either of
those, let alone for Houston’s recently formed invitational? My question exactly.  
Regardless, doing so would decrease their chances to receive Houston’s invite the
following year.  

That’s like asking the Giants: Will you please skip the Super Bowl in order to attend
an exhibition game recently organized by the Jets? (Since the above-referenced
National Jurist article cites to both of our rankings, it’s relevant to note that my
ranking awards no points for top finishes at your competition [because yours is an
invitational].)     

It helps to consider the NFL’s Pro Bowl:




And who is Houston to name the best program? Houston’s ranking depends heavily on your
valuation of other competitions’ prestige.  The valuation is subjective.  So it would
improve credibility if Houston were an authority on moot court excellence.  It’s not.  
Houston's record of moot court performance is actually quite bad.  

In my ranking – which depends not at all on teams' willingness to show up and pay me
money –
Houston recently ranked 105th out of 114 programs (2011).

As further proof of Houston’s discerning eye, it has invited DePaul to compete.  
http://www.memphis.edu/law/news/mtctinvite.php.  DePaul’s moot court program is nearly
as bad as Houston’s.  Yet Houston deemed it Top 16 in the country.  DePaul is not even
top three among Chicago’s five law schools.  (John Marshall, Loyola and Chicago-Kent
are.)

More than that, Houston has gone so far as to crown Detroit Mercy “best of the best.”  
http://www.law.udmercy.edu/news_events/docket/2009/mootcourt.php.  By contrast, in my
2009 ranking, Detroit Mercy tied for 96th best (out of 124 programs); in 2010, it was
78th out of 105.

Houston, please give your slogan a break.  You could use the credibility.

Sincerely,
Brian Koppen, Founder/Ranker, LawSchoolAdvocacy.com
LAW SCHOOL ADVOCACY
BRIAN KOPPEN'S
UPDATE TO THE UPDATE:

An advocacy director competing at the so-called moot court tournament of champions is
quoted as saying that:

"[I]t was somewhat amusing to hear the U[niversity of] H[ouston] folks
talk at every
turn
about how this is the TRUE national championship." [Underlining added]  

Yep, University of Houston has no shame.
UPDATE:

So after all my griping, University of Houston sees fit to give the thing to South
Texas for the first time.  (Advocacy director competing there: "But I'm still
disappointed that Houston chooses to run a behind-closed-doors competition...").

And which program does South Texas need to take down to be crowned "best of the best"?
St. Louis University.  And here's St. Louis, by the numbers:

2011: Unranked out of 114 programs.
2007: 65th out of 69 programs ranked.
2008: 54th out of 82 programs ranked.
2009: 42nd out of 124 programs ranked.
2010: 34th out of 105 programs ranked.

Obviously, South Texas prioritizes this in-state invitational (0 LSA points), over
Pace Enviro (72 LSA points), and
it cost South Texas the championship for the very
first time.  (WUSTL finally beat South Texas, in 2011's Ranking Season, with a top
finish at Pace Enviro.)
Why is there no moot court national championship?
Brad A., University of Houston's "Championship Committee" said...

"On behalf of the Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship Committee:

We want to thank Rob for his post because it highlights one of the very important
aspects of the Andrews Kurth Moot Court National Championship ("Championship") - our
commitment to excellence in hosting a fiercely competitive moot court tournament. In
pursuing that goal, the Championship format offers top schools an opportunity to
compete against other top schools that achieved unparalleled success in the previous
year of oral advocacy competitions. In hosting such a competitive tournament, the
Championship Committee makes administrative decisions every year in an effort to
create an even playing field for all teams regardless of size or resources. These
decisions include discussions related to the two issues discussed in Rob's previous
post: (1) the decision to withhold final results until each "break" announcement and
(2) the issue to utilize in-house bailiffs.

First, the Championship Committee chooses not to release the results of each round
until after each "break" announcement in an effort to promote elite level
competitiveness in every round. While we understand the competitive nature of the
students who compete in the Championship, we cannot ignore the psychological impact
on a team of knowing it is 0-3 with the worst brief score heading into the last
preliminary round. After all, the Championship teams put in too much time and
preparation to compete against a team that has thrown in the towel after a couple of
disappointing rounds. While the committee will definitely consider Rob's position (as
we discuss this very issue every year), it bears noting that some coaches have been
vocal in support of the current system. These coaches commented that they appreciate
the Championship because of the completely different feel of the preliminary rounds -
a feel brought about by each team feeling it has a shot all the way through.

Second, the Championship Committee chooses to utilize in-house bailiffs in an effort
to provide a level playing field for all competing teams. Not all competing teams
travel with a surplus of students or coaches. As such, requiring these teams to
choose between manufacturing a bailiff or using their opposition's bailiff presents a
unique team-specific obstacle that has no place in the Championship. The Championship
seeks to remove as many team specific obstacles as possible other than talent,
knowledge of the problem and preparation. Additionally, allowing teams to utilize
their own bailiffs would hardly provide a fix for the occasional human error.

Having said that, the entire Championship Committee apologizes for the bailiff's
error during the Championship. No one feels worse about the error than the student
who made the mistake. We are constantly revising and improving our training programs
for our volunteer student bailiffs in an effort to get better. We will do everything
in our power to improve our process so this issue is not repeated. Importantly, we
want to stress to all the competing teams that this error was recognized and dealt
with swiftly before the judges recorded their scores for the round. Ultimately, this
issue had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the round in question.

I want to thank Rob for his feedback and efforts on the Bench Brief. His feedback
always helps to make us better which in turn provides a better experience for the
students. Good luck to all the competitors in spring competitions and we hope to see
many of you in Houston next year for the 2013 Andrews Kurth Moot Court National
Championship. Should Rob or anyone else have any questions or concerns please feel
free to contact me at [email withheld]."

The Ranker responds...

UHouston: [W]e cannot ignore the psychological impact on a team of knowing...
Ranker: Paternalistic drivel.

UHouston: Having said that, the entire Championship Committee apologizes for the
bailiff's error during the Championship.
Ranker: Ah, the "Championship" reduced to apologizing for bailiff error.

UHouston: Ultimately, this issue had absolutely no impact on the outcome of the round
in question.
Ranker: No impact? What about that "psychological impact" you spoke of? Oh nevermind.