By Bettina L. Hollis
Bettina L. Hollis was the 2010–11 national student director for the Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition.
Congratulations to Erin Moss and LaToya Palmer from Thomas M. Cooley Law School for winning the national championship at the ABA Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition National Finals (CCC) March 11–12, in Norman, Oklahoma. The pair then represented the in the International Client Counseling Competition in the Netherlands, April 6–9. In winning the national title, they beat 11 teams from throughout the , including second-place team Judith Harris and Erin Kobayashi from the of at Manoa; and third-place team Joseph Citro and Rachel Hawkinson from the . Finalists each won monetary awards from the Law Student Division and book awards from the Criminal Justice Section and the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division.
It’s also “a great opportunity to use a skill that is necessary,” Hawkinson says. “It’s a really important skill to have in practice.” Palmer adds that practical skills cannot be manufactured in law school; you need experience. “This competition allows us to experience doing what, for all practical purposes, we’ll be doing throughout our career.”
The topic was professional responsibility of lawyers and judges. Three judges—two practicing attorneys and one counselor—evaluated competitors on both a client meeting and a consultation. At the meeting, attorneys ask questions and listen to elicit the information needed to advise the client. At the consultation, attorneys meet with each other and plan their approach to the client’s problem. Rounds are timed and both parts of the counseling session must finish in the allotted time. “It was great having social workers as judges with the attorneys,” said Amy Pepper, University of Oklahoma College of Law Assistant Professor of Clinical Education, after judging the semi-final round. “They really brought another level of expertise to the competition.”
Adding to the pressure, a wildfire neared the borders of , threatening the competitors’ hotel. Also, the of at Manoa team wondered about the tsunami caused by the earthquake.
The final round judges were Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Douglas L. Combs; Gina Hendryx, general counsel for the Oklahoma Bar Association; and Ann Lowrance, department head of social services at Oklahoma State University–Oklahoma City. Sheila Nettles, assistant district attorney in , portrayed the client—an attorney who saw her client cheating on his spouse and was asked to conceal the information.
Before announcing their decision, the judges addressed the competitors. “I understand how important it is when you first meet with a client,” Justice Combs says “you need to be able to get their story, make them comfortable, and answer their questions in a relatively short amount of time. Growing your relationship with the client is incumbent upon the first meeting.” Hendryx emphasizes the subtleties of client counseling. “Conflicts are many times gray, not black and white, she says. “You have to look at her goals and start there . . . don’t assume the first issue is the only issue.” Lowrance stressed eye contact and deciphering the issues. She said, “recapping your understanding is really important in terms of sending a client out the door knowing what to expect, what will come next.”
The champions almost didn’t make it to the finals after placing second in the region behind the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. But as the highest-ranking Canadian team at the regional level, automatically advanced to the international competition, leaving space at the finals for Moss and Palmer to represent Region 6.
Vol. 40 No. 1