By Abby Weingarten
Over the weekend, for the first time in the school’s history, New College sent students to compete in the Mid-South Regional of the 2020-2021 American Moot Court Association (AMCA) national championship tournament.
The event empowered six Novo Collegians (Rhys Shanahan, Natalie Kornblum, Natalie Spivey, Rasheed “Zane” DiVita, Isabel Nieves, and KarYan “Max” OoHlaing) to practice their legal skills by arguing imaginary cases.
“This was a unique, historic moment for our students,” said David Fugett, New College’s general counsel and the team’s coach. “Moot court is a really good exercise for students to start thinking like lawyers. Our students are extremely bright and well-suited for an event like this, and I’m very proud of them.”
Participation in the virtual event (hosted by the Liberty University School of Law in Virginia) was entirely student-driven, as the New College students first approached Fugett with interest in attending. Fugett practiced with them on an almost-nightly basis for weeks to prepare.
New College students were organized into three two-student teams to face off against 13 schools: Liberty University, Georgetown University, Duke University, Michigan State University, Texas A&M University, the University of Texas, the University of Southern California, Vanderbilt University, Bridgewater College, Marietta College, Regent University, Patrick Henry College and Yale University.
“Some of our students’ final scores ranked them ahead of students from Yale, Vanderbilt, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, Liberty University and others. Our highest-ranking student was Rhys Shanahan, followed closely by Natalie Kornblum,” Fugett said. “Each one of the students improved dramatically from Round 1 to Round 3, and I could not have asked for more. They represented New College against some of the finest moot programs in the country, and they did so with professionalism and skill well beyond their years and their experience level.”
The AMCA offers the ideal space for New College students to hone these skills, as it is the largest intercollegiate moot court organization in the United States.
“Moot court is about advocacy—thoughtful, deep, getting into the weeds of arguments and case law, and advocating a position to a panel of judges,” Fugett said. “That’s where you make true change—in training to be an advocate in appellate court. So our students are learning to advocate in a court of law in a way that will make real change in the world.”
Last year, more than 475 teams registered to compete in 14 qualifying tournaments to attempt to win a bid to the championship tournament that was held at Southern University Law Center in Louisiana. Each year, students from additional colleges and universities participate in the opportunity provided by intercollegiate moot court.
New College’s involvement in this year’s AMCA tournament is a milestone, and it comes only nine months after another historic event for the College. In February at the University of Central Florida, the New College Mock Trial Team (including Shanahan and Kornblum) successfully competed in the American Mock Trial Association’s Regional Tournament. It was the first time New College had ever participated in the competition.
Novo Collegians went up against the top teams from the University of Miami, Florida International University and Flagler College, as well as a team from England’s De Montfort University (New College outscored law students at the latter by 15 points).
Moot court and mock trial training are invaluable for students who are pre-law, like Kornblum, a second-year student who is also vice president of the New College Law Society.
“I’ve wanted to work in law since I was in high school, and I think that [moot court] is an amazing opportunity to polish my public speaking skills and procedure,” Kornblum said. “I’m so excited that New College has opportunities like this for students who want to go into the legal field.”
DiVita, a third-year student of public policy and finance, said the experience provided him with stellar law school preparation.
“Some of the best teams in the world are represented at the Mid-South Regional competition, and we’re the first moot court team to ever represent the school. I think the experience will make me better suited to handle the rigors of law school and face the realities of what it’s like to be an advocate in the real world,” DiVita said. “Moot court teaches you how to think like a lawyer, use logic to defend an idea, and sound good while doing it—that’s a skill you can take anywhere.”
Natalie Spivey, a first-year political science student, plans to attend law school after New College as well, and the moot court competition was a crucial stepping stone for her.
“The opportunity to compete against prestigious universities across the nation means so much to me as a first-year student at New College. It was super nerve-wracking at first, but I’ve put in more work than I ever thought I could,” Spivey said. “I’ve learned and improved so much with the help of our incredible coach, Mr. Fugett. He helped me to see and foster my potential, and I am so grateful for that.”
For more information on the AMCA, visit amcamootcourt.org/tournaments
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.