Two weeks before the University of Arizona and Arizona State University go head to head on the football field, the rival schools will face off in a different venue – on the legal stage.
On Nov. 9, law students from the UA’s James E. Rogers College of Law and ASU’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law will compete in a closing arguments competition at the UA college of law in Tucson.
The two-person teams will vie for the coveted Jenckes Cup, which has been traded between the two schools for 42 years. The UA currently holds the cup, named for the late Joseph Jenckes, who was a UA law alumnus and prominent Phoenix attorney as well as a fellow of the Arizona chapter of the American College of Trial Lawyers, which sponsors the competition.
“This is a great learning experience and a peak experience in law school,” said Peter Akmajian, a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and coordinator of the annual Jenckes Competition.
Two weeks prior to the showdown, each team is provided a partial transcript of an actual court case. The transcript includes witness testimony and evidence but does not include closing arguments. The students then use the facts of the case to formulate their own closing arguments.
The teams are judged by members of the Arizona chapter of the American College of Trial Lawyers, with as many as 40 attorneys weighing in on how well the students prepared, understood the facts, argued those facts and delivered their statements.
The judges are not told which students are from which school, and they are not concerned with the verdict.
“We’re not voting on who wins the case but who does the best job presenting the case,” said Akmajian, a UA College of Law alumnus and attorney with the Udall Law Firm in Tucson.
The cases alternate each year between criminal and civil, with this year’s being a civil case. A coin toss two weeks prior to the competition determines which team will act as the plaintiff and which the defendant. Each member of the winning team is awarded $1,000, while each member of the competing team gets $500.
Tom Mauet, a UA law professor, has coached the UA’s Jenckes team for 32 years, offering students feedback and critiques as they prepare for the competition.
He said a number of second-year and third-year students from the James E. Rogers College of Law compete for a spot on the team, with only the top two advancing to the finals against ASU.
“These arguments are of capable professional quality,” Mauet said. “The students we pick as our final two are very good at this.”
Since the first Jenckes Competition was held in 1970, the UA has won the trophy 25 times. The engraved silver cup is currently on display in the UA’s Law Library. This year, the UA will be vying for its third consecutive win.
The UA and ASU take turns hosting the competition, which is open to the public and takes place this year from 5-6 p.m. in the UA College of Law’s Ares Auditorium, Room 164.