Appellate Advocacy

The Appellate Advocacy program is designed to give second-year students a chance to prepare and argue an interrelated question of law and fact in an adversarial setting.

In September, advocates begin a ten-week process of researching and brief writing that culminates in oral presentations of their arguments. The records and bench memos used in Appellate Advocacy I are generated by the Moot Court Executive Board of the previous academic year in conjunction with a member of the faculty. Each advocate will receive a case record of the lower court’s proceedings and will work in two-person teams representing either the appellants or appellees. Each student will be assigned one issue to brief and argue.

Briefs are typically 14 pages long (of which, each advocate must write seven pages). Oral arguments consist of arguing in front of a panel of three to four judges. The panel is typically comprised of two student judges, one faculty judge, and one visiting judge (a practicing attorney or judge). Those advocates with the highest total scores will have the opportunity to participate in the spring competitions (Van Oosterhout-Baskerville and Jessup Competitions) the following semester.

Annual Events

The Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Domestic Competition was established in honor of Richard Baskerville, a 1959 University of Iowa College of Law graduate, and Martin Van Oosterhout, a 1924 University of Iowa College of Law graduate and former Chief Justice of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Participation in the competition is restricted to the top 32 advocates of AAI who express a desire to compete in a domestic law competition.

This competition is designed to sharpen the skills of the student advocate. Each advocate will write 14 pages for his or her portion of the brief and will participate in four oral arguments. Advocates argue not only the issue and side on which they write their briefs, but also the other three sides of the problem. That is, advocates argue four rounds, a different side each round: on-issue/on-brief, on-issue/off-brief, off-issue/on-brief, and off-issue/off-brief. The top four scorers in the initial rounds will be selected to argue in a final round before a respected panel of jurists.

The top six advocates of the competition will form the National Moot Court Team in the fall semester of the following academic year. In addition, four advocates will have the opportunity to perform oral arguments before the Iowa Supreme Court during the College of Law’s annual Iowa Supreme Court Day during the fall semester. Advocates who place seventh through twelfth in the competition are invited to participate on the Advanced Moot Court Competition Team, commonly referred to as the “Baskerville Team.”

The spring intramural Jessup Competition is modeled after the International Law Students Association Jessup International Competition to prepare students for participation on the International Jessup team (if they so desire and are chosen) the following year. Working in pairs, each student writes approximately 12 pages advocating his/her position. Oral arguments consist of an approximately 15-minute presentation before a bench. The competition gives students the opportunity to develop and improve their memorial (brief) writing skills, gain experience in oral advocacy, learn about the substance and procedure of international law, and discover how the International Court of Justice operates. The Jessup problem features current and exciting issues of international law. The top five students with the highest combined memorial and oral argument scores from the intramural Jessup Competition will comprise the College’s International Jessup Team for the following academic year. The Best Advocate (scoring the highest combined memorial and oral argument score) from the Jessup Competition receives the honor of serving as captain of the Jessup International Team the following academic year. The prestigious Jessup International Moot Court Competition is held in memory of the late Judge Phillip C. Jessup, an American judge who sat on the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The International Jessup Competition provides students with an incomparable opportunity to compete not only with teams from more than 100 American law schools, but also with teams from Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, and South America. It is directed and administered by the American Society of International Law through the International Law Students Association (ILSA). Please see for more information.

The Moot Court Board consists of approximately 16 student judges (depending on class size) and an executive board consisting of approximately seven members. The Moot Court Board operates under the guidance of a faculty advisor. All advocates successfully completing AAI and any spring appellate advocacy program (i.e., Domestic or Jessup Competition) are eligible for election to the Moot Court Executive Board (i.e., including position of: chairperson, vice-chair positions, domestic competition coordinator, AAI coordinator, Supreme Court Day coordinator and Jessup coordinator). Students who have successfully completed AAI are eligible to become student judges. Student judges are responsible for advising student advocates on their brief writing and oral argument preparation in AAI and the Spring Semester Competitions. Student judges also judge and score student advocates’ oral arguments and briefs in these programs. Selection to all positions is made by the current Moot Court Executive Board based on the student’s participation in Moot Court programs, personal interviews, and an editing sample.

Open to six finalists from Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Domestic Competition. Students participate as the law school’s representatives in the Regional Moot Court Competition in the fall of their third year. Prerequisites: 91:210 Appellate Advocacy I and 91:404 Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Competition.

In the fall of each year, the College hosts the Iowa Supreme Court on the University of Iowa campus. Oral arguments in a moot case are presented to the Supreme Court by third-year students in the Levitt Auditorium, an event that is open to the public.

The evening following the event, a number of faculty members host receptions at their homes for the justices, attorneys, and students. These receptions provide an opportunity to visit informally with members of the court, and all students should plan to attend. Students also are welcome to help organize and plan the day's activities in conjunction with the Iowa Student Bar Association.

The top competitors from the Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Domestic Competition are invited to participate as the law school’s representatives at a regional moot court competition in either the fall or spring of their third year.

The location and subject matter of the competition can vary annually, but in the past students have participated in the William E. McGee National Civil Rights Moot Court Competition (Minneapolis) and Chicago Bar Association Moot Court Competition.

Prerequisites include: 91:210 Appellate Advocacy I and 91:404 Van Oosterhout-Baskerville Competition.

Trial Advocacy

Trial Advocacy is a student-run, faculty-supervised program that provides opportunities for students to develop and refine skills used in the preparation and trial of civil and criminal cases. Students are "on their feet" during most class sessions, practicing the arts of voir dire, opening statement, direct and cross examination, introduction of exhibits, use of expert testimony, and closing argument.

The course culminates with a full-scale trial, from the filing of pre-trial motions to the rendering of a jury verdict conducted by student co-counsel before a visiting Iowa judge and jury of lay people. Students receive extensive criticism on the effectiveness of their classroom and final performances, and all class sessions are videotaped for review and critiqued by instructors and fellow students.

Trial advocacy classes are usually taught by clinical or adjunct professors, themselves practicing trial attorneys, and a board of third-year students provides administrative and critical aid. Demand for the class has grown to the point that, in addition to offerings during the academic semesters, an intense six-day version of the course has been developed for interim sessions, so that approximately 110 students may enroll in trial advocacy classes each year. Inclusion is determined by lottery.

Annual Events

The Stephenson Trial Advocacy Competition is a competitive version of the full trials that complete the semester and intersession trial advocacy courses. The competition, which began in 1984, is named after Judge Roy L. Stephenson, an esteemed judge of the United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, and a 1940 graduate of the UI College of Law.

A fund to provide for this competition was established by Judge Stephenson's former law clerks. A limited number of law students who have demonstrated superior ability in advocacy during the trial advocacy courses participate in a week-long series of mock trials judged by local members of the bench and bar. The final round of competition is judged by federal judges and Iowa Supreme Court justices.

The competition, which takes place in October, culminates in a banquet where awards are presented to the winning participants and to the best litigator. Individuals selected from the competition represent Iowa at national trial competitions in the spring.

Other Opportunities

Additional opportunities are offered for students to sharpen their oral and written advocacy skills in specific areas of practice. Events are hosted annual.  

Annual Events

The National College Athletics Infractions Hearing Competition closely simulates the formal hearing process utilized by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Committee on Infractions (COl) to adjudicate allegations of major rules violations. Entering its second year, the competition is co-hosted (fully online with no travel required) by The University of lowa’s College of Law and the Sport and Recreation Management program in lowa’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

lowa's unique competition offers students in law and/or other graduate school disciplines an opportunity to gain insights into the NCAA's regulations and their practical application within this quasi-legal context. Moreover, participants will engage in a nationwide competition, presenting their skills before judges with expertise in sports law, college athletics, and compliance. Finally, students will receive judge feedback and network with judges to support professional development.

During the competition, students will work on teams to develop and sharpen their oral and written advocacy skills through an athletic lens by taking turns advocating as NCAA enforcement staff and as defense counsel for a school accused of committing NCAA infractions.

Major league baseball salary arbitration process that sports agents, attorneys, and team executives participate in, presided over by panels of lawyer arbitrators; students develop written and oral advocacy skills while participating in mock salary arbitration hearings; three students are chosen to represent the UI College of Law at the Tulane University Law School International Baseball Arbitration Competition in mid-January.

An opportunity to engage in moot court proceedings focused on environmental law issues. 

An annual international moot competition concerning international commercial arbitration under the Vienna Convention on the International Sale of Goods (CISG).

Under close supervision of instructor, students prepare two briefs, one for the claimant and one for the respondent, are mooted repeatedly by instructor and practicing attorneys (often alumni of the competition), and then participate in multiple rounds of moot court competition in the United States and, ultimately, either Hong Kong or Vienna.

Student Success

Photo of 4 student advocates preparing for Supreme Court Day.

Supreme Court Day inspires law students to excel in Moot Court

Thursday, April 27, 2023
A tradition going back almost 100 years, Iowa Supreme Court Day is the culmination of course work, moot court competitions and hard work. “I remember watching Supreme Court Day as a 1L, two years ago on Zoom, and thinking that would be the most exciting thing I could do,” says Iowa Law student Jamie McCarthy.

Taking experiential learning to the next level

Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Through his joint relationships with the College of Law and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dan Matheson has developed a national interdisciplinary student sports law competition that stands out as the first of its kind.
2021 Supreme Court Day in Levitt Auditorium in the Boyd Law Building

The Supreme Court Day tradition continues at Iowa Law

Friday, October 8, 2021
After going virtual in 2020, the University of Iowa College of Law’s long-standing tradition of Supreme Court Day was back in person today at the Boyd Law Building. The seven justices from the Iowa Supreme Court traveled to Iowa City to take part.  

Current students can find more information here: Moot Court & Trial Advocacy