By Austin Bybee
On Feb. 3, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law’s National Moot Court Competition team made it to the quarterfinals of the Annual National Moot Court Competition.
The team consisted of third-year students Cate Vaden, Alex Allred, and Brady Nash.
The team competed against hundreds of schools across the country. In the end, the team lost in the Elite 8 to the Texas Tech University School of Law after having defeated the University of Florida in the Sweet 16 earlier that day.
Dean Elizabeth Kronk Warner, who served as coach of them, remarked “I am so impressed. They have exceeded my expectations. [Our team] finished number six in the country out of hundreds of the top teams.”
Congratulations to our amazing students!
Below, Cate Vaden, one of the competition team members, discusses her experience with the Annual Moot Court Competition and her time in law school.
Why did you decide to come to law school?
I chose to come to law school after seeing what a difference lawyers could make for refugees and other immigrants in the United States. I had been working at the International Rescue Committee for three years and my job primarily related to finding housing for new refugees and helping them to navigate relationships with their landlords. My interest in the law increased when I saw the dramatic changes that President Trump was able to enact his first year in office. It was devastating as refugees stopped arriving and clients were separated from their relatives because of their country of origin. I followed the news closely around the different executive orders and policy changes and lawsuits challenging them. I was really inspired seeing how lawyers were able to stop some of these policies through the courts, and that is when I decided to go to law school.
Congratulations on your recent success in the National Moot Court Competition. Can you tell me a little about the experience and how you prepared?
I have learned a lot this year being a part of the National Moot Court Team. I actually was not supposed to be on the team, but one of the members had to drop off because of time conflict issues, and the other team members reached out to me to see if I was interested. It has been a powerful learning experience for me because I get nervous speaking in front of audiences. Public speaking was definitely not one of my strengths going into the competition, but my coaches and teammates helped me through regular practice. Our coaches, Dean Kronk Warner and Jason Harmon, have gone above and beyond in helping us to prepare. We practiced twice a week and also had a lot of guest judges who came in to help us practice. We ended up winning the Regional Competition and made it to the quarter-finals in the National Competition last week.
What has been the most rewarding experience of law school for you?
The most rewarding part of law school for me has probably been the classes themselves and being a student. After having worked for several years, it feels like a privilege to get to spend the majority of my time studying and learning. I have had really amazing professors and classmates who create an engaging learning environment and have challenged me to analyze issues very differently than I did before starting school.
You were one of the students who participated in the trip down to San Antonio last year to assist immigrants. Can you tell me about that experience and what you learned from it?
Yes, that was an incredible opportunity that was organized by one of my classmates, Amitay Flores. Amitay saw that in our class and the law school in general there is a huge interest in immigration law and worked with the administration, outside sponsors, and American Gateways, a non-profit organization in San Antonio, to organize an opportunity for SJ Quinney students to work with detained immigrants over Spring Break. We took a class, “detained immigrants” in preparation for the trip taught by two local attorneys, Leonor Perretta and Mel Moeinvaziri, from Perretta Law Office. We studied different topics to prepare us for the trip and then in March, we travelled as a group to San Antonio.
We volunteered with American Gateways’ pro se orientation program at Pearsall Detention Center, about an hour outside of San Antonio. We helped detained immigrants prepare their applications for asylum or other relief. Although I have read a lot about the detention system, actually being at the detention center and meeting the individuals detained there was both eye-opening and devastating. Most of the individuals we worked with had taken extremely dangerous journeys to reach the United States. They had endured these difficult journeys out of desperation to escape persecution in their home countries. They were confused about why they were in detention and did not have lawyers to represent them in their court proceedings. It was great to be able to help individuals, but also hard to know how many asylum-seekers in detention would never get any assistance. I left the trip feeling even more committed to working to advocate for immigrants’ rights in the future.
My experience in the class also inspired me to apply for an open job with Perretta Law Office this year. It has been a great experience to continue to learn more from Leonor and Mel and the other attorneys at Perretta. I have been able to work on a variety of immigration cases and learned a lot.
Do you plan on practicing immigration law after graduation?
Yes, I became interested in immigration while working as a leasing consultant at an apartment complex where many refugees in the area lived. I did not particularly like leasing, or sales, but I loved hearing the stories of refugees in the community and getting to know them. I decided to go back to school and study Arabic and Foreign Affairs with the goal of working with non-profit organizations serving refugees. Many of the refugees at the apartment complex where I worked were from Iraq, and that is how I became interesting in learning Arabic. I started volunteering with the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville, Virginia, and loved helping new refugee families get settled in the United States. After I graduated from college, I applied for all open entry-level positions with the IRC, and I ended up getting a job with the office in Salt Lake City. Working with refugees for many years has strengthened my belief that there should be an easy and safe way for individuals fleeing violence or persecution to find a safe home in a new country.
I have accepted a clerkship with Chief Justice Matthew Durrant following my graduation. I have heard from a lot of my mentors that clerking is one of the best ways to continue to learn after graduation, and I am really excited to get to work with Chief Justice Durrant.
My long-term goal is to work on impact litigation protecting immigrants’ rights. I had the opportunity to work with ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project after my 1L year and American Immigration Council after my 2L year. Both internships were incredible experiences, and I got to work on many of the same lawsuits that had inspired me to come to law school in the first place. I hope to work in this field in the future.