Paralegal Fellow Jessica Trejo at a courtroom podium

Paralegal Fellows Compete in Moot Court at GU Supreme Court Institute 

The courtroom quieted as the presiding judge invited representatives for the plaintiffs and the defendants to the podium one at a time to make their arguments. In pairs, the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Fellows faced off against one another in a moot court held at Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute courtroom. 

Serving on the judges’ bench during the Aug. 29-30 event were program faculty, alumni, and outside legal professionals who peppered the Fellows with questions and issued rulings based on who best presented their arguments. 

The moot court served as a final capstone project for the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program. The intensive, full-time program was created specifically for people who have previously been incarcerated and offers a paralegal certificate from Georgetown Law. The curriculum builds a strong foundation of legal skills to prepare graduates for careers as paralegals and in other legal support roles. The current cohort of students, the program’s fourth, is set to graduate in late September, and the moot court marked the end of their academic coursework.

“Moot court allows the students to reach back and utilize all of the nuances of the law that they’ve learned,” said Faculty Director Suzanne Tsintolas. “They’ve had the opportunity to show in the past 22 weeks what they’ve learned on paper. This gives them the opportunity to learn and to show what they can do in a different context.” 

Tsintolas gave the students details of their cases just a few days before the moot court began. It was up to each team to develop a compelling argument based on the facts of the case and relevant case law.

“We were pretty much researching our case for about four days straight. We were writing the script, trying to think of defenses, and trying to shoot holes in the opposition’s arguments. And also trying to masquerade weaknesses in our claims,” Paralegal Fellow Nicole Cevario said. “I certainly am very proud of us and all the hard work that we put in.”

In addition to the hours of research and preparation that went into their cases, the other big challenge for participants was overcoming their nerves as they each took turns standing up at the podium in front of a panel of judges. 

“It was intimidating to have your professor up there acting as chief judge,” Fellow Juan McLendon said. “But then it just started coming out, and it went pretty smoothly. I understood the issues, I researched the law, and I had an idea of what claims had solid grounds and which ones didn’t.”

The challenge and pressure of a moot court is a rite of passage for most law students, and being a part of that was a significant moment for the paralegal Fellows. 

“I’m impressed with their ability to articulate. I’m impressed by their ability to persuade. I’m impressed by their ability to overcome that nervousness,” Tsintolas said. “You stand on an island there in front of these judges. It can be very nerve racking, and I’m so proud of them.”

While previous cohorts of the MORCA-Georgetown Paralegal Program have completed a moot court, this is the first year the students have had the opportunity to use the Supreme Court Institute courtroom at the Georgetown Law Center. The imposing space is a replica of the actual Supreme Court courtroom – down to the carpet and the distance between the podium and the judges’ bench. The formal space, Tsintolas said, added to the gravity of the occasion and brought a feeling of authenticity to the proceedings. 

While the moot court capstone gave the Fellows a chance to pull from everything they’ve learned in the program, it’s also an opportunity to prepare for the future, Tsintolas said. 

“I think it will give them the confidence to take anything, whether it’s in a conference room, or a private office, or in an arbitration, or mediation,” she said. “Even if they’re assisting in a courtroom, it’s going to give them that confidence to be able to stand up and do it.”

Paralegal Program