Law Students' Work on US Supreme Court Case Pays Off; Brief Cited by Highest Court in the Land
Early in 2017, first-year students at the University of Cincinnati College of Law were invited to research a high-stakes question that was pending in the United States Supreme Court: when the prosecution chooses to pursue the death penalty against a defendant who has mental illness but cannot afford to hire counsel, does the defendant have the right to a mental health expert who is independent from the prosecution?
Since 1985, capital defense lawyers across the country have obtained such assistance as a matter of right under the Court’s landmark decision Ake v. Oklahoma. Nevertheless, the Alabama courts held there was no such right. In McWilliams v. Dunn, nationally-renowned attorney Steven Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights asked the Supreme Court to correct that error.
The students jumped at the chance to research the expert appointment practices that have existed across the country since Ake was decided. Their research supported an amicus curiae brief filed by the National Association for Public Defense and other co-amici in McWilliams. Professor Janet Moore supervised the students in her role as chair of NAPD’s Amicus Committee, which she shares with Professor Jennifer Kinsley of NKU-Chase College of Law.
The students’ work paid off. On June 19, 2017, the Court ruled 5-4 that Ake clearly established the capital defendant’s right to a mental health expert who is sufficiently available to the defense and independent from the prosecution to effectively “assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” The students were thrilled to see Justice Breyer’s majority opinion cite the NAPD brief as showing that the majority of jurisdictions have already adopted this principle.
In reflecting on the experience, many contributing students found it to be not only a valuable learning opportunity but a highlight of their first year at UC Law.
“Assisting Professor Moore with research for the McWilliams brief was one of the highlights of my 1L year,” reflected rising second year law student Francesca Boland. “When I started law school, I never dreamed that before the first year was over I would provide research support for a Supreme Court brief. This was a fantastic opportunity to put my new skills into action and to get a taste of real lawyering. I am thrilled that the brief played a role in the Supreme Court win!”
David Wovrosh expressed similar sentiments. “It was pretty surreal to see our work cited by the highest court in the land,” he said. “The research really tossed the principles we learn in the classroom into the thresher that is the practical application of law. It was an invaluable learning experience. I could never have imagined having access to such profound and impactful experiences my very first year!”
Marissa Lee also was enthusiastic about her experience: "I'm incredibly appreciative of Professor Moore for giving us the opportunity to do research for an NAPD amicus brief for the Supreme Court. My work allowed me to collaborate with my professor and fellow students outside of class, and my work had a sense of significance. We understood the importance of the case to the defendant in this case and to lawyers representing indigent defendants across the country."
The students’ energetic response to the opportunity offered in the McWilliams case led to the formation of the College of Law’s Bearcat-NAPD Amicus Team. Students continue to actively assist Professors Moore and Kinsley with research and drafting as well as with the many administrative tasks required to conduct effective appellate advocacy. The team is therefore well-positioned to continue following the McWilliams case, which was remanded for further proceedings, and to assist in the many other cases across the country that raise questions about whether courts are enforcing the bedrock constitutional guarantees that the Supreme Court emphasized in Ake: “a fair opportunity to present [a] defense” and “to participate meaningfully in a judicial proceeding in which . . . liberty is at stake” – in short, “[m]eaningful access to justice.”
Why I chose Cincinnati Law's LLM Program
Qing Lyu left China to pursue education in America when her husband came to the States for work. “If you have a law degree in your country, and you know a little bit about American institutions, when you come back to my country, it’s very competitive for you to find a good job.” Although Lyu is not yet sure if they will return to China at some point, she does know that she wants to get work experience in America under her belt before they do.
When asked about the difference in teaching between China and the United States, Lyu explained that professors will lecture, and although you can ask questions, it typically doesn’t happen. In the third year, students take classes that do allow them to talk a little bit, but note taking is still the major point of class. During her studies here, however, “We are asked to engage a lot. To ask questions, discuss with each other, or debate with professors-that’s very different.” Professors, and other students, are more open to questions here as well, and she feels that there is not such a stigma of asking a “dumb question.”
Lyu also attended China University of Political Science and Law, but for her undergraduate education, where she studied both law and economics. For her graduate program, she went to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, focusing on maritime law.
1. Why did you select the University of Cincinnati College of Law for your degree?
Before I came to the United States, I did some research online. University of Cincinnati College of Law has a long history. It is the fourth-oldest continuously operating law school in the country. And the reputation is very good, this is one of important factors for me. Second, before the new semester, the law school offered opportunities for students to visit courthouses and law offices, which not only chelped us obtain professional knowledge of the US legal system, but also understand what it means to be a real attorney. This is a wonderful start to get ready for the new semester. Moreover, the law school is geographically near the downtown. This is very critical, because many law firms and big companies are in the urban areas. It is a great advantage for us to do some networking or seek for an internship. Cincinnati is also home to many of the top 500 companies, such as P&G, Kroger (the nation's second largest retail supermarket, after Walmart), which means that international students have more opportunities after graduation. After three years in Cincinnati, I know that I made the right decision.
2. What are the strengths of a law degree from the University of Cincinnati College of Law?
LL.M. program actually is not new in the United States, many law schools have this programs as well. I know some law schools, like OSU, have a lot of Chinese students in their LL.M. program. In contrast, the LL.M. program in UC is rather new, however, it is growing very fast. I believe UC law school has many advantages that others do not own, such as reasonable student-to-faculty ratio. Students at the College of Law benefit a lot from an intimate study environment and personal attention from faculty to establish a good relationship. Besides, staffs are also very enthusiastic to help students. My advisor is very responsible and she always gives me advice not just in my study, but also in my life. Some courses are just open to LL.M students, some you can study with other JD students, to really know American law school learning atmosphere.
3. How has the University of Cincinnati College of Law prepared you for your career?
Because of this degree, I am eligible to apply for Ohio state bar exam. In fact, I recently passed the Ohio Bar Exam. Not only Ohio, students can also apply for other state bar exams (depending on the student’s background). Like I said in the previous question, the reputation of UC college of law is very good, it matters a lot. Not only in Cincinnati, but also in other big cities in Ohio. Moreover, UC college of law allows international students to choose their interested classes. Because I am interested in business law, I tried to study more related courses for my career planning. Besides, UC college of law has a lot of professional employment counseling, internship opportunities, and student organizations. They also regularly organize some activities, I can have many chances to network, which is very important for my career.
4. Why should other Chinese students consider the University of Cincinnati College of Law?
First, the law school has a lot of programs that we can participate, such as volunteers opportunities, summer internships. You can even apply for school part-time jobs as well. Second, students can choose their own courses of interest for their career planning. Finally, LL.M. students are from different countries in the world, not just from China, unlike many law schools. Therefore it is a wonderful chance to know the culture differences and make friends, also to practice their oral English and develop social skills.
Cincinnati Law Celebrates its 184th Hooding
Cincinnati Law celebrated the accomplishments of its graduates on May 13, 2017. Led by Interim Dean Verna Williams, 84 degrees were conferred, including 14 LLM degrees. Take a look at a few pictures from the ceremony and celebration.
Cincinnati Law’s Trial Practice Team Advances to National Competition
3Ls Chris Diedling and Rob Jones took home their second win at the regional TYLA Trial Practice competition, putting them in contention for a national win.
Cincinnati, OH - Cincinnati Law’s Trial Practice Team recently competed at the regional Texas Young Lawyer’s Association competition. For the second year in a row, the team successfully advanced to the national level. Third year law students Chris Diedling and Rob Jones are headed to Fort Worth, Texas this week (March 20 – 26) to compete against 14 other regional winners.
“It should be exciting,” said Chris Diedling recently about the upcoming competition. “Last year we felt like the first win was maybe a bit of luck, but we’ve won regionals two years in a row now. We deserve to be there.”
“We’re going to do better this year,” added Rob Jones, “second time around.”
Though they seem confident, Diedling and Jones are not taking the victory for granted. Working alongside a trio of dedicated coaches and collaborative practice with the 2L trial team, they are more than prepared to take their skills to the national level. With long weekly practices, lengthy conference calls with coaches, and tiresome travelling, the entire team shows true dedication among their busy schedules and heavy course work.
“We’ve got some great coaches, Bill Markovits, Zach Schaengold, and Bill Blessings, who basically drop everything to help us do this,” said Jones. “The amount of work and preparation they put into this is mind-blowing, they really help us prepare.
“Specifically, we would do practice once a week. The last couple of weeks we ramped it up to two per week,” said Jones, “but we would also do conference calls between practices with our coaches, and those could be pretty lengthy. The 2L team—Kalisa Mora, Jefferson Kisor, and Jonathan Walker—were good. They’ve helped us immensely in preparing and bouncing ideas off of each other. Practice went for four hours. It was mind-numbing at points, and they were a good laugh. They kept it fun”
All in all, there is more to the trial practice team than tiresome competition with gruesome preparation. Students are benefiting from all of their hard work, whether they win or lose. The practical experience, according to Diedling and Jones, is one the most helpful exercises they can participate in to better their future in law.
“You can only learn so much in a classroom,” said Diedling. “We both want to go into litigation in our careers and this was a way for us to really develop those skills.”
Jones agreed. “It is the most practical thing you can do at law school, especially if you’ve got a practical setting to apply what you’ve been taught.”
About the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association National Trial Competition
Attracting nearly 140 law schools of over 1,000 law students each year, the Texas Young Lawyer’s Association National Trial Competition encourages and strengthens students' advocacy skills through quality competition and valuable interaction with members of the bench and bar. Established in 1975, the program intends to provide a meaningful contribution to the development of future trial lawyers.
Co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers, students have the opportunity to win the Kraft W. Eidman Award, consisting of $10,000 to the winning school thanks to the generous donation Fulbright & Jaworski. Beck Redden LLP presents a $5,000 award to the second place team, and each semifinalist team is awarded $1,500 by Polsinelli PC.
Author: Kyler Davis’19, communication intern
Urban Morgan Fellow Travels to the International Criminal Court
Luke Woolman became the first UC Law student to study abroad at The International Criminal Court during his externship with the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights.
Cincinnati, OH – After completing four years of undergrad at Texas Christian University and commissioned as an engineer officer with ROTC, Luke Woolman embarked on a new journey with the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights. With a military background and an interest in international relations, Woolman set his sights on traveling to The Hague, Netherlands to work at the International Criminal Court.
“I’ve always been interested in International relations,” said Woolman, “being with the Urban Morgan Institute, they kind of had different opportunities, and they’ve never had someone go to the ICC before, so I was able to work with them and find a way to get there.”
The International Criminal Court is an intergovernmental organization located in The Netherlands. The treaty that was signed to establish the ICC is called the Rome Statute, which was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome on July 17, 1998. This treaty gave the ICC jurisdiction to investigate crimes of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in an international setting. One hundred twenty-four (124) states are currently party to the statute, however, the US formally renounced their signature on May 6, 2002.
“First of all, I was the only American on my floor. Second of all, I was the youngest person by far,” said Woolman. “The court functions in English—English and French are the main languages there—but since America isn’t a party to the ICC, they’re just less Americans there in general. Of the two people that I spent time in the office with, the two visiting professionals, one was from Canada, the other was from Australia. You get a nice mix of people to work with.”
Though Woolman may have been an outsider at the ICC, this was not his first experience studying abroad. During his time at Texas Christian University, he spent a summer working and training with the Thai army. The main challenge at the ICC, according to Woolman, was the adjustment to working with law in the international environment.
“I studied abroad in undergrad and I’ve been fortunate enough to travel, but I’ve never worked abroad,” said Woolman. “It was kind of eye opening, because in your first year of law school you learn about law in the US. The system of law, the general formatting and stuff is completely different at the ICC. It’s pretty much like learning everything all over, but most people that actually go to work at the ICC worked within their country for probably over five years as a lawyer, but it was a good experience.”
After his time spent at the ICC, Woolman is prepared to take on bigger and bolder challenges. His time dedicated to traveling abroad, along with his interest in international relations, has led him on a path toward grand opportunities. Though he doesn’t see himself working at the ICC anytime soon given the tough requirements, his future is solid as he takes on his next summer experience with the Department of Justice.
“(The ICC) is a very competitive place to get a job at. Obviously you’re competing with people all over the world, but they do expect you to at least have five to 10 years of experience in your own country before they even consider hiring you. So maybe when I get to that point I’ll think about it,” said Woolman. “This summer I’m working in DC at the Department of Justice in their criminal section, so I’m looking forward to that. I have the military too, so we’ll see what happens. I hope to probably work for the government here to some degree, ideally the DOJ or some kind of federal agency.”
About the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights
The Urban Morgan Institute has educated and trained human rights lawyers, who promote and protect human rights all over the world. Established at the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1979, the institute has become a model for other human rights programs throughout the country, based on the unique experiences students gain both inside and outside of the classroom.
Writer: Kyler Davis’19, communication intern
Emily Roberts Conducts Field Research in Durban, Africa
2L Emily Roberts reflects on her experience at the Legal Resource Center in Durban, Africa during her externship with The Urban Morgan Institute of Human Rights.
Cincinnati, OH- After their first year of law school, Urban Morgan Fellows are given the opportunity to spend their summer abroad through an externship program. Students work with international judges, human rights attorneys and organizations, governmental agencies, or U.N bodies. The externships provide invaluable hands-on training for the student and much needed assistance to the host organization. For an incoming law student planning on entering the human rights field, it is a chance to gain real-world experience, and begin making a difference before getting a degree.
This was the driving force in Emily Roberts’ decision to enroll in the College of Law, and become an Urban Morgan Institute of Human Rights fellow. As an undergraduate student at the University of Iowa, Roberts studied abroad in Botswana, Africa while obtaining her BA in International Studies and Global Health with a focus in African Studies and Human Rights. She immediately fell in love with South Africa while abroad, and knew she wanted to return. The Urban Morgan Institute was her ticket back.
“I wanted to make sure that I was able to go abroad as much as possible,” said Roberts. “If you’re admitted as a fellow, even before you start school, you’re guaranteed to go abroad after your 1L year.”
After her admittance into the program, Roberts’ dream of returning to South Africa came to fruition. Following her first year, she embarked on her externship at The Legal Resource Center in Durban, Africa. Established in 1979, the center promotes justice for marginalized populations, advocating for those suffering from discrimination regarding race, class, gender, disability, or historical circumstances.
“I was probably only at my desk in our office two out of the five days a week,” said Roberts. “The majority of the time was spent driving out to these far away farms in the middle of no where, and sitting down with these elders who could tell us the story about why the land is so important to them, and what the government is not doing to help them. That’s the type of experience I want as a career.”
Roberts enjoyed the fact that her externship was not a “typical” desk job. Much of her work involved investigating discrimination in land and housing, where she gathered data during numerous field visits. She talked directly to victims, listening first-hand to the stories of men and women who were affected by cases involving the unlawful destruction of their home and property. For Roberts, this was the exact career she hopes to one day pursue. However, her experiences came with many tough challenges and obstacles.
“One of the harder things was the language barrier,” said Roberts. “English is widely spoken, but then there’s also Zulu, which is the biggest tribal language in South Africa. When you’re out in the farms, the residents really don’t have a high level of education, so they most often don’t know English. Me and two other candidate attorneys would do the interview process; they would relay the information to me and translate it. I appreciated that they would take the time to do that.”
Conducting this field work in Durban called for very intimate and close discussion with people who have lived in these areas for generations. Roberts expressed difficulty not only by barrier of language, but also as an outsider to their culture. However, she added that the experience was humbling.
“If you are used to being the majority, go some place where you’re going to feel like the minority,” said Roberts. “Being in a completely different culture, it’s not only just that you’re white and you’re blonde and you’re a girl, but you’re obviously American. I always worry that when you go someplace, especially when you don’t look like everyone else, people are going to think that I’m sort of imposing on their life. I try to blend in as much as possible.”
Victims of Unlawful Destruction
Roberts most impactful project involved the unlawful destruction of an “informal settlement” in rural Durban. After collecting research via field visits, Roberts utilized her education to interpret the crimes against many of the victims in an international context in order to present a viable case to the Legal Resource Center.
“We were trying to bring a suit against the government, not only for damages of property destruction, but also for how it affected the kids that lived in those villages, who were sleeping or playing outside and pretty much saw their homes destroyed right in front of their eyes. I had to really use what I learned, constitutional law based on US Law, and try to apply it to a South African context.”
The service experience and knowledge Roberts gained during her three months spent in Durban will forever be cherished as she embarks on future pursuits to provide justice.
“It was amazing to see one woman who knew so much about her rights,” said Roberts. “You know, she barely knew English but she was able to articulate to me why this was so important to her. We were really thankful for being there and listening to them, because sometimes that’s really all you can do.”
About the Urban Morgan Institute for Human Rights
The Urban Morgan Institute has educated and trained human rights lawyers, who promote and protect human rights all over the world. Established at the University of Cincinnati College of Law in 1979, the institute has become a model for other human rights programs throughout the country, based on the unique experiences students gain both inside and outside of the classroom.
Michael Briach Named 2017 Whitman Fellowship
Michael Briach became the second student selected for the 2017 Whitman Fellowship, which includes a stipend and a summer of experience in civil litigation.
Cincinnati, OH – From early on, Michael Briach knew he wanted to be a lawyer, even as a high school student in his hometown of Youngstown, OH. He centered his coursework and studies around his future aspirations. At the University of Akron, Briach studied political science and criminal justice. After graduating, he was on his way to the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law on the next step to pursue his dreams.
An active member of Moot Court and a student leader with the Honor Council, Briach has dedicated himself to gaining as much knowledge and experience as possible. It paid off when he was awarded the Whitman Fellowship in March.
“I’m extremely happy and satisfied that I was awarded the Whitman,” said Briach. “I’m excited to work with Mark Smith. Just from our short interview, we hit it off. I think it’s going to be a great experience.”
The Whitman Fellowship allows Briach to internship with attorney Mark B. Smith at his firm Mark B. Smith Co., located in Carew Tower. The firm has represented individuals, families and businesses in matters involving bodily injury, wrongful death, general negligence, malpractice, insurance disputes, products and premises liability, and aviation. Briach will work a minimum of 300 hours during the summer and will receive a stipend.
Briach is ready to take on the challenges ahead of him. During his time spent at the College of Law, he’s made sure to dedicate much of his effort in the specific fields that are important for a future in litigation. “I think I’m prepared,” he said. “I took my research and writing classes very seriously. I know that research and writing are critical to being a lawyer in general and I think that will serve me well this summer during the fellowship.”
All in all, Briach is honest in his pursuit. After years of hard work and dedication, the fellowship is simply one more step in achieving a simple goal: to become a lawyer.
“I just want to advocate for my clients, whether that be an injured client, who needs significant representation, or whether that be a business. Whoever I’m advocating for I want to be zealous in my representation, fight hard for my clients, and just really enjoy being a lawyer.”
About the Whitman Fellowship
Through the generous support of Bruce B. & Ginny Conlan Whitman, the College of Law awards one law student with $7,000 stipend to work for an employer that specializes in representing individual plaintiffs and their families in personal rights litigation, tort and employment law, such as those injured by the negligence of another or wrongfully terminated from employment. The recipient will work a minimum of 300 hours on substantive legal assignments under attorney supervision, supporting the employer’s work. The work includes legal research, drafting memorandum, drafting pre-trial litigation documents, filing, and observing meetings/hearings.
Writer: Kyler Davis ’19, communication intern
UC Sports Law Club Competes at National Baseball Arbitration Competition
Two teams from UC Sports Law Club traveled to New Orleans to compete at the Tenth Annual National Baseball Arbitration Competition hosted by Tulane Sports Law Society.
Cincinnati, OH – Some go to New Orleans to party; these students went to compete. This spring semester, six members of UC Law’s Sports Law Club traveled to New Orleans to compete at Tulane University in New Orleans. Nick Kitko (3L), Mickey Sutton (3L), and Zach Johnson (2L) made up one team, while Matt Wagner (2L), Alex Spalding (2L), and Ken Westwood (2L) made the other.
Johnson, Kitko, and Sutton advanced to the quarter finals of the competition, succeeding to the final eight. (Kitko and Sutton competed as 2L’s, making this their second visit to the competition.) Johnson, vice president of the Sports Law Club, shared the team’s experience preparing for their first competition alongside their faculty advisor, Professor James Lawrence.
“The process begins with a written brief, just to make sure you’re doing the work. Tulane doesn’t want people to show up unprepared,” said Johnson. “After we submitted our written briefs, we came back from break a little early. We met with Professor James Lawrence at Frost Brown Todd to talk about our competition and what we were going to do. He helped us prepare, to know what an arbitrator looks for. Before you knew it, we were headed down on a plane the first week of school to compete.”
Professor Lawrence has been an adjunct professor at the law school since 1975. His current practice involves mediation and teaching dispute resolution. As a past chair of the firms’ Alternative Dispute Resolution Practice Group, he was able to equip the teams with the necessary knowledge and skills to compete.
“Professor Lawrence read our briefs and talked to us about our oral presentations. He gave us advice on what to do, what not to do, and how to present properly.” said Johnson.
At the 2017 National Baseball Arbitration Competition, the teams were excited to see the guest arbitrators and judges, who were all experts in the field of baseball arbitration proceedings. The assistant manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Nick Krall, was one of many special guests that the teams had the opportunity to meet. Other judges and arbitrators included special assistant to the Philadelphia Phillies, Bryan Minniti; partner of Turner-Gary Sports, Rex Gary; and general counsel to the Major League Baseball Players Association, Dave Prouty—who judged the quarter finals of the competition.
“It was an experience that I cherish,” said Johnson, “especially being a fan of baseball.”
“There’s so much money to be made. Those contracts are massive, I mean, it’s money you can’t even quantify,” said Johnson. “If you’ve reached arbitration, it’s kind of your chance at really making your career a baseball career, rather than something that you’re chasing for a while and moving forward from that.”
After this experience the Sports Law Club is considering attending again next year. “I think we’re going to try to make it more of an official tradition for our Sports Law Society,” said Johnson. The competition definitely serves as a practical and exciting opportunity to apply what is learned in the classroom to real-life situations future attorneys may face.
About the National Baseball Arbitration Competition
The National Baseball Arbitration Competition is a simulated salary arbitration competition held in the early Spring semester at Tulane University. Similar to moot court or practice trial, this arbitration competition is modeled closely to the procedures used by Major League Baseball. The competition’s main goal is to provide participants with the opportunity to sharpen their oral and written advocacy skills within the unique specialized context of Major League Baseball’s salary arbitration proceedings. In addition to the competition, a collection of experts in the field of baseball arbitration serve as judges and discuss legal issues related to baseball.
About Arbitration in MLB
After a player reaches his first three seasons in Major League Baseball, they are eligible for arbitration, meaning that the player has a chance to challenge the club over the amount of money in which they will be paid. These proceedings in Major League Baseball are crucial to the business aspect of the sport, by determining the quantifiable value of each player. Though these proceedings don’t directly deal with the rules and regulations of baseball, arbitration basically resolves disputes in salary between the player and the club. On both the players side, and the club side, evidence and arguments are presented outlining statistics of the player’s performance, comparing the player’s statistics against other players who may have received more or less money, and illustrating other factors such as injuries, temperament, and consistencies throughout the player’s career. After both sides present their best argument, a salary is determined by an objective third party, and a deal is made favoring either the player or the club.
Author: Kyler Davis ’19, communication intern
BLSA Organization and President Support Community Youth, Work to Improve Diversity in Legal Community
3L Rebecca Knight, president of Cincinnati Law’s Black Law Student Association, collaborated with the YMCA’s Black and Latina Achievers Program to create program opening the doors of the legal profession to youth.
Cincinnati, OH – “I believe that every lawyer has an obligation to the community that they serve and that they work in.”
Rebecca Knight, 3L and president of the Black Student Law Association, has had a winding journey to reach her childhood dream of becoming an attorney. With a humble attitude and a passion for law, her hard work and determination would eventually lead her to join Dinsmore and Shohl LLP’s litigation practice after graduation. However, during her time as a student, she has never forgotten the importance of giving back to her community.
Since the age of 12, Knight wanted to be an attorney. Originally from the Washington D.C area, Knight studied political science at the University of Richmond in Virginia. Though she enjoyed her time here at a small liberal arts college, the path ahead of her still remained unclear.
Knight’s passion to help those in need lead her to apply for the Peace Corps after her undergraduate years. However, due to budget cuts during the year of her application, Congress was unable to secure the necessary funding. Knight was not deterred. Soon afterward, she landed back on her feet with a job as a paralegal.
“I’m the first person in my family to graduate from high school,” said Knight. “So I didn’t have any sort of background into what a lawyer does, what it takes to become an attorney, or what makes a good attorney. I really wanted to get my feet wet first, because I thought I knew what I wanted to do, and I thought I had the skill set for it. I allowed myself to test it out first, and it worked out really well.”
Knight spent two years as a paralegal, working full time at a small boutique firm under the direction of five attorneys. Though she recalls the work being daunting at times, Knight’s strong work ethic led her to go above and beyond her responsibilities all the time. When she finally reached the decision to apply for law school, she received overwhelming support.
“All my attorney’s really got behind me,” said Knight. “That’s why I got the opportunities, no other paralegals went to trials and that’s what I did. I drafted briefs, I did pleadings for them to sign, I went to depositions with them from time to time. I knew the cases, I knew the files, and I knew the people. All my attorney’s really got behind me, and that kind of solidified my decision to come to law school.”
Knight “cast the net really wide” in choosing the right law school for her. She was immediately drawn to the history of the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law. She was fascinated by the idea that 27th president and 10th Chief Justice of the United States, William Howard Taft, attended the university. Above all, Knight loved the class size, and the support from the faculty and staff. After her first visit, she fell in love.
“I loved everyone I met,” said Knight. “I remembered being so enamored, these people are incredible, and doing very big things in this city. The professors were engaging; everyone was interested in getting to know me a lot better. It was awesome, no other law school ever treated me like this. It’s a smaller environment and that’s kind of what I wanted.”
After arriving at UC’s College of Law, Knight excelled. In addition to being the editor-in-chief of the Cincinnati Law’s Intellectual Property and Computer Law Journal, and a student leader of Honor Council, Knight takes great pride in being president of the Black Law Student Association.
“My goal coming in as the BLSA president was to make sure that every student of color here has a place,” said Knight. “It can be intimating when you’re one of three black women in the class. It can be very isolating if you are constantly feeling like others might view you differently, you have to work harder to prove them wrong. I want to make sure every student of color that walks into this building feels like they have a safe space, and that’s what BLSA is intended to be.”
The BLSA maintains a strong commitment to the service component of their program. With help from Knight, the organization developed of a collaborative program with the YMCA’s Black and Latino’s Achiever’s program. The purpose is to prepare teenagers for college and beyond by providing them with career exploration opportunities, college visits, toastmasters, scholarships, and more.
The Black and Latinos Achiever’s program has numerous career clusters where students can engage with professionals and learn more about specific professions. However, after dropping off money the BLSA raised for the program in their annual basketball tournament, Knight became aware of an opportunity to really make an impact in her community.
“Last year we raised a little bit over $400 to buy a laptop for a student,” said Knight. “When we went to go drop off our scholarship check, of course, they told me about how the law cluster has been defunct for years now. That made me very sad, especially since I was one of those kids. If I had a program like that when I was younger, I’m sure that my path would have been a lot different, and much more focused. I didn’t know anyone who was an attorney or in law school, so, I had no idea. I could have gotten answers to my questions a lot earlier if there was something like this around. I have to do this; I have to be a part of this.”
Knight and the BLSA developed a curriculum for the Black and Latino Achiever’s Program that included everything a student needs to know to become a lawyer. She highlighted the important skill sets necessary for the work, what to do in undergrad, the LSAT, passing the bar, and other crucial aspects. In the curriculum, Knight even teaches the students about how the government is structured, and how the judiciary branch works.
“We really run them through the gamut,” said Knight, “all the things you can possibly do with law, how they work, and how laws directly impact your everyday life. We’ve even talked about police brutality and how it’s affected communities of color. You could see the light bulbs going off, and that’s when I thought ‘this is what I’m here for.’ We’re supposed to be teaching these kids this. By the end I have 10 kids who say, ‘I want to be an attorney’, and that’s amazing.”
The collaboration with the Black and Latino Achievers program is not only a way to fulfill the service component of the BLSA’s objective, but Knight also views this as an opportunity to make a change for future generations of color. The partnership is a way to directly impact Black and Latino youth in the area to be more involved in law, to overcome societal disadvantages, and make sure teens know that a career in law is attainable.
“If kids don’t know that this is an option for them, how can we increase diversity in the legal community nationwide?” said Knight. “It’s an issue, and it needs to be addressed. This is a small way of doing that. We’ve already made it, we’re here. We’re already very privileged people for being here. So now we need to bring more people through the door with us.”
On April 22nd, the community will have the opportunity to see the program come to life. In a mock trial event, the students in the Black and Latino Achievers program will be showcasing all the hard work they have done and the knowledge they have acquired about the law in a mock trial event at Cincinnati State Community and Technical College. Using a car theft case, students will take on the roles of each person in a court room during a trial.
“It’s an opportunity for the kids to show what they’ve learned,” said Knight. “This gives the parents and others in the community the opportunity to see what they’ve been doing. They understand every single person’s roles in the courtroom. They aren’t just acting out something, they know everything that they are doing.”
Though Knight will be graduating this year and starting her professional career at the Cincinnati offices of Dinsmore and Shohl LLP, her commitment to the community will never end. In addition to supporting the next BLSA president, she will be encouraging her/him to continue the collaboration with the Black and Latino Achievers Program.
“Nobody got here without the help of someone else,” said Knight. “We always want to take credit, but the reality is, if it wasn’t for someone who encouraged us, then we wouldn’t be here now. It’s small, but it’s important. We all need the push, and we’ve all been fortunate enough to have that, and so now we have to turn around and give it to someone else.”
About the BLSA
The University of Cincinnati College of Law’s chapter of the BLSA is part of the National Black Law Student Association. Initially created in 1969, the BLSA existed to open law school doors and enhance the quality of education for African-American students throughout the United States. The organization has been significant in providing African-Americans with providing ample opportunities and access to the field of law during the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and continues into the 21st century. BLSA is determined in preserve and advocate for major increases in the number of African-Americans faculty hired and African-American students admitted into law schools throughout the United States.
About the Black and Latino’s Achievers Program
The YMCA of Greater Cincinnati’s Black and Latino Achiever’s Program is a college readiness and career exploration program, which provides teens with the essential tools to pursue higher education and to identify different career opportunities. The focus of the program is to strengthen the community by strengthening the lives of the youth in the community. Student’s are mentored by career-oriented adults to engage in hands-on learning, college readiness, career development and leadership development. Through workshops, college tours, fundraising and more, the program exists to change the direction of lives. The program has awarded over $200,000 in scholarships, and engaged more than 4,000 adult volunteers though corporate and community sponsors.
Writer: Kyler Davis ‘19, Communication Intern
Cincinnati Moot Court Team To Go International
This coming March, a team from the University of Cincinnati College of Law will compete in an international arbitration moot in Hong Kong.
By John B. Pinney, Senior Trial Lawyer and Chair, International Practice Group, Graydon Head & Ritchey LLP. and Moot team coach
Members of the Vis Moot Team
Over the past two years, the University of Cincinnati College of Law has been working towards fielding a team to compete “against the world” in Hong Kong in the Willem C. Vis International Commercial Arbitration Moot. Now, all of the time and hard work has come to fruition as a team of UC College of Law students will represent the tri-state in late March at the 2017 international competition, becoming only the second Ohio school to compete in the Vis Moot in history.
Making the Cut
In October, a team of eight law students, including three 3Ls, three 2Ls, and two LLM attorney students, was selected. Currently, the entire team is working on researching and preparing written memoranda supporting each side of a hypothetical commercial dispute; only the top four participants will travel to Hong Kong to compete.
While in Hong Kong, the team members will not only fight hard in competing against teams from all six continents, but will also meet and network with other law students, as well as attorneys practicing in international commercial arbitration, from all over the world.
What is the Vis Moot Competition?
In 1992, the Vis Moot was created for the promotion and study of international commercial arbitration and to train tomorrow’s legal leaders in the methods of dispute resolution of international business disputes. Named for Willem C. Vis, a law professor and United Nations diplomat dedicated to enhancing cross-border business transactions, the moot quickly became a success with hundreds of law schools from around the world coming to Vienna each spring. In fact, the moot was so successful that in 2003 a second venue in Hong Kong was established – the Vis East International Arbitration Moot. The 2016 moot attracted almost 400 teams to Vienna and Hong Kong. Competitors included teams from Harvard, Georgetown, Stanford, USC and Yale. This year’s competition, held at the City University of Hong Kong, is expected to host approximately 120 law school teams.
Each year, Vis Moot teams are given a “problem” in early October that is based on a hypothetical commercial dispute arising under the Convention for Contracts for the International Sale of Goods (CISG)1. The problem for the 2017 moot involves the sale of jet engine parts from a seller located in “Equitoriana” and a buyer located in “Mediterraneo.” In their “contract,” the parties agreed to resolve any disputes by international commercial arbitration in the country of “Danubia” administered by a Brazilian arbitral institution. (The problem is always drafted to require an understanding of the 1958 New York Convention on Recognition and Enforcement of International Arbitration Awards and the UNCITRAL Model Arbitration Law, as well as the CISG.)
Built into each year’s problem are issues involving both the procedures of international arbitration practice and substantive breach of contract issues based on the CISG. The procedural issues this year are whether the seller’s arbitration notice was timely and whether the seller should be required to post security in order to proceed with the arbitration. The substantive issues deal with whether the buyer or seller should pay for losses arising from fluctuating currency exchange rates and large unexpected bank fees. During the competition, each team will argue both sides through written memoranda and in oral arguments before real-life international arbitrators who have volunteered to judge the competition.
Competition Supported throughout Tri-State
College of Law Dean Jennifer S. Bard is a strong advocate for the law school’s international programs and in enhancing the international proficiency of the school’s students. In addition, the school has helped to partially underwrite the costs of sending the team to the competition. Dean Bard said,
“In a world where business in the Cincinnati region is increasingly becoming part of a globalized world economy, today’s lawyers need to know how to help clients resolve business disputes not only within the United States, but also in China, in Germany or, as a practical matter, anywhere in the world. We at the College of Law believe we must equip our graduates to have the skills required to practice law relevant in the 21st century, including international arbitration, which increasingly is becoming a necessity for today’s dispute resolution lawyers. The Vis Moot provides not only an exciting opportunity for our students to travel to Hong Kong and see first-hand another culture and legal system different from our own, but, more importantly, it introduces them to and allows them to learn from some of the world’s leading international dispute lawyers and arbitrators. We are extremely happy to support our students and their coach, Professor Pinney, as they compete in the 2017 Vis Moot competition.”
Additionally, Professor Rachel Smith, faculty advisor to the law school’s Moot Court program, and Assistant Dean for International Student Programs Nora Burke Wagner assisted with helping to coordinate the team and arrangements for the trip. Steve McDevitt, an associate at Frost Brown Todd, serves as the team’s assistant coach. McDevitt brings a wealth of experience to the team as he competed in the competition in 2013 and 2014 while at Georgetown Law School and has shared insights on writing winning memoranda and making effective oral arguments on an international competition level.
Why take this opportunity to participate in Vis Moot? Among the important benefits is their opportunity to join the Moot Alumni Association. All participants in both the Hong Kong and Vienna competitions are able to join the Vis Moot Alumni Association, which now has thousands of members. Through the association, team members can maintain their connections among their fellow competitors and the arbitrators, further enhancing their professional development and careers.
We’re confident that the Cincinnati legal community will enthusiastically support our “Cincinnati team” as they prepare for this rigorous challenge. By doing so, not only do we enhance ourselves, but also how the rest of the world views the tri-state and the University of Cincinnati College of Law.
1The CISG is a United Nations convention governing the cross-border sale of goods. The United States and 83 other countries have adopted and are parties to the CISG. Unless expressly disclaimed, the CISG automatically applies to contracts for the sale of goods where the parties to the contract (buyer and seller) are from different countries that are signatories to the CISG. For example, the CISG will apply, in lieu of the Uniform Commercial Code, to a contract specifying Ohio law because the CISG, as a convention to which the United States is a party, is part of Ohio law by virtue of the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution.