Moot Court Program Soars under New Faculty Advisor and Alum Coaches

by Nicole Boyd, March 11, 2021

“I firmly believe that our students are capable, and intelligent. If we give them support and resources, they will be incredibly successful in external moot court competitions across the country.” – Professor Elysa Dishman

Seven teams will represent BYU Law in external moot court competitions this semester ranging in diverse areas of law such as tax, criminal, energy, and immigration law. For the first time, each team has been paired with a dedicated coach with expertise in the substantive area of the law and are highly-skilled appellate advocates.   

“These coaches are adjunct members of our faculty, but they really do this work for the love of the program,” explains Professor Elysa Dishman. As an experienced litigator and the program’s new faculty advisor, she works with her student board to match competitors with talented attorney coaches, many of them alumni of the law school.

Working alongside Dishman is Hannah Leavitt-Howell (3L), national team member and president of the moot court board.  “My goal initially was to make moot court more attractive and prestigious. But, Professor Dishman’s vision is much broader; she found coaches that bring one more level of positive skill development that maybe we were missing to make the jump into having competitive external moot court teams.”

Helping bridge the gap is BYU Law alum, and Assistant Solicitor General in the Utah Attorney General’s Office, Christopher Ballard. He’s coaching two teams this year. “My plan is to sit down with my teams and talk about how they briefed the problem and talk about both sides of the issue, then do the moots that will help them prepare and refine those arguments,” he explained.

Uniquely qualified to coach, Ballard has briefed over 150 appeals and argued more than 90 of those cases in front of the Utah Supreme Court and remembers his own moot court competition days fondly. “I want to help the teams be prepared as possible for their arguments. Not only will that help students have a better experience, but when students do well, it showcases what a stellar school BYU Law is.” 

Another BYU Law alum, Mallorie Mechan, spent two years working as a judicial law clerk for the Salt Lake City Immigration Court and now specializes in immigration. Her vast experience made her an invaluable coach for the NYU Immigration Law Competition. 

“They are smart, good students and I have faith in their abilities to make those arguments.

I’m their encyclopedia. But, I want them to really be able to dig in and form their own arguments and flex those muscles, because I know they’ve been taught well.”

Mackenzie Cannon and her teammate, Jared Ereckson competed in the William B. Spong Invitational Constitutional Law moot court competition a few weeks ago.  

Coached by BYU Law Alum Cherise Backalski, who began her litigation career at the Utah Attorney General’s office, Cannon felt better prepared than ever before.

“Because our coach did three practice rounds with us before we went in, we felt very confident. It was so helpful, it made a world of difference.” The team faced three preliminary rounds. “We felt amazing about how we did even though we didn’t advance. We were there for the experience and the relationship we had with our coach was invaluable. For me it was a great end to my run with the BYU moot court teams,” Cannon recalled.

With respected names fill-in the remaining coaching spots like Scott Goodwin, Freyja Johnson, and federal magistrate judge Jared Bennett; Dishman’s attention turned to the competitions themselves.

“A big part of increasing the excellence of the program is to be more intentional, deliberate,and  strategic about where we are going, and why we are going there,” she explained.  A long-term vision for the moot court program is to become nationally-ranked based on success in external competitions. 

Leavitt-Howell believes a high national ranking is within grasp. “There are a lot of competitions you can’t enter unless you are invited. We would like to be at some of those invitationals. But, unless we have a ranking, there are a lot of places we can’t go.”

Ballard even mused about the possibility of BYU Law hosting its own external competition in the future. “I want to do whatever I can to give back to the law school and to help increase it’s reputation,” he explained.  “If BYU moot court teams start consistently placing high in these competitions and winning, then that will raise eyebrows throughout the legal community.”

Dishman said that’s the idea, “I want this program to build a legacy of excellence in appellate advocacy at BYU Law. We have a tradition to maintain with Rex E. Lee as our first dean who achieved excellence in that sphere.” 

For more information, please email Professor Elysa Dishman at dishmane@law.byu.edu. Interested alums can help in many ways; coaching competition teams and judging rounds, host events for traveling teams competing in their hometowns, or making financial donations directly to BYU Law’s Moot Court program.