First Year Moot Court Board Competition Debacle Caused by Computer Error
A spreadsheet error that caused scoring errors in the Moot Court Board's First Year Competition led to much frustration and anger among the first year class last week.
The First Year Competition is an annual event that gives 1Ls the opportunity to compete for Moot Court Board membership, a coveted extracurricular activity among law school students. The competition is based on a problem distributed as part of the Legal Research and Writing (LRW) curriculum. First years are asked to write two briefs during the spring semester as part of their class work and are invited to compete using their second appellate brief.
Scoring for the competition is based on the competitor's written brief and oral arguments. Though the Moot Court Board competition is not part of the LRW program, LRW professors score the briefs and coach students on their oral advocacy skills. Competitors' oral arguments are judged by members of the Moot Court Board and practitioners who agree to view the arguments. Critics of the Moot Court Board have argued in the past that requiring students to judge the rounds gives individuals too much discretion in a competition that is closely tied to the Law School curriculum.
Micah Elggren, former President of the Moot Court Board, explained the details of scoring. "The cutoff for advancement between rounds depends on a number of factors, including the size of the pool of competitors, the availability of judges, and natural breaks in scoring. We guarantee that 20 percent of the total number of competitors will advance from Round II to Round three, but we try to take more so that as many people possible have the opportunity to compete. This year we were fortunate to have 15 rooms of judges for five argument time slots, allowing us to give many competitors the opportunity to participate in Round III."
Elggren explained that the problem with this year's competition was due to a spreadsheet error that affected overall scoring. "After the Moot Court Board entered the scores from Round II, an error occurred in the scoring spreadsheet. The spreadsheet did not transfer all of the competitors that qualified for Round III." However, Elggren said that all of the competitors who participated were qualified for Round III based on their written and oral scores for previous rounds.
Elggren took full responsibility for the incident, noting, "Upon discovering the error, the Moot Court Board immediately called all of the competitors that qualified for Round III but whose names did not appear on our list. The board also called in extra judges to offer flexibility in scheduling for the competitors. Round III actually ended earlier than the board anticipated because of the additional rooms." Elggren said that most of the excluded competitors ended up competing during their original times slots and all of them received the opportunity to compete for board membership and qualify for out rounds."
In response to inquiries on how this type of error could be prevented in future competitions, Elggren said, "I have already begun discussions with next year's Moot Court Board president to create a plan that would ensure this problem does not happen again. We are going to check the scoring system and create a new way to verify that all the competitors get advanced." Additionally, Elggren said that he appreciated everyone's patience while the Board worked to correct the problem. "I had the opportunity to speak with every competitor that was accidentally excluded from our Round III list. All were very excited for the opportunity to compete."
Many first year students, however, remain frustrated at the Moot Court Board for allowing the error to occur. A 1L competitor who wished to remain anonymous said she originally thought the competition was run well until Saturday night. "After the second round I, like a lot competitors, gathered in the hard lounge around 2:30 PM to see if I had made it into the the third round. The list of round three competitors was to be posted by paper on the chalkboard between the hard lounge and the leather lounge by 2:30. Shortly thereafter the time was changed to 3:15, so we all waited patiently. Around 3:30, word spread quickly that the list of competitors was available online - although not posted to the chalkboard- and so a friend of mine pulled up the list and many of us gathered around to check. Seeing my name absent from the list, I and two friends walked home."
Tired and upset, she threw her suit into a corner and climbed into bed to watch a movie. Her phone unexpectedly rang at around 5:00pm. "I picked up and was told by a representative of the FYC that the computer had a glitch that miscalculated scores. Due of this, the list of round three competitors was incomplete and I had actually made it. The woman went on to ask me if I could come back to campus as quickly as possible to be allocated a time and adversary. I agreed, pulled my wrinkled mess of a suit on, dried my eyes and walked back to school. Upon arriving I signed in and was told my round would begin in five minutes. I asked if I could compete later, in need of time to go over my argument and mentally prepare, but was denied."
Although she ended up making the Board, the 1L said "the mistake and subsequent mess was ridiculous and uncalled for." She noted, "I understand people make mistakes, I just wish they had been honest and upfront about what happened and more willing to accommodate the people who had been wrongly dismissed. While I am glad I made the board, my opinion has not changed, I believe there are probably people who would have made the board if the FYC was run in an efficient manner."
Despite the incident, Elggren said, "The 2009 First Year Competition was a great success! We extended invites to a group of very talented and enthusiastic advocates. All who participated did an excellent job. I had the opportunity to sit as a judge for several competitors, all of whom did an extraordinary job and made me excited for the future of the advocacy programs at GW Law."