Law School Students Win Top Honors at Duberstein National Bankruptcy Moot Court Competition

Students from The University of Texas School of Law made an unprecedented near sweep of top honors in the 18th annual Conrad B. Duberstein National Bankruptcy Moot Court Competition after successfully competing in final rounds this month in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Patrick Schmidt and David Shank won first place in the competition on March 15, while Rex Mann and Kelli Benham won second place and Mark Little, Mann and Benham won the award for best brief.

Austin attorneys Jay Ong, Debbie Langehennig, a 1988 graduate of the School of Law, and Vanessa Gonzalez, a 2008 graduate of the School of Law, coached the students. Professor Jay Westbrook, a 1968 graduate of the School of Law who holds the Benno C. Schmidt Chair of Business Law at the Law School, worked with the teams as well.

"For our students to make it an all-UT final, and to win best brief on top of that, is a remarkable accomplishment that speaks to the superior quality of our students, coaches and advocacy program," said Westbrook, who has advised teams in the competition from its inception.

"The Duberstein win is the most current national championship for UT Law and we're very proud of these students and coaches," said Professor Tracy McCormack, a1986 Law School graduate and director of the School of Law's Advocacy Program.

"This highlights an exceptionally successful year for UT Law and adds a national championship to the four regional championships already won this spring. The Duberstein team brought home the 12th national championship of the last 10 years, but since we still have two more teams competing at the national and international level this semester, we're hoping to add to that number."

This year's case problem was pulled from today's headlines involving Ponzi scheme bankruptcies, and raised two questions: whether a sophisticated investor who becomes suspicious and withdraws funds is denied the protection provided to good-faith transferees, and whether a bankruptcy trustee can waive an individual debtor's attorney-client privilege.

"These are both unresolved, cutting-edge problems in the bankruptcy field, permitting a great deal of room for creative advocacy," Westbrook said.

The Duberstein Competition is named for the late Judge Conrad B. Duberstein--a St. John's University alumnus and former American Bankruptcy Institute (ABI) director--and has grown into one of the larger appellate moot court competitions in the nation, with nearly 50 teams from 35 participating law schools. The final rounds were held this year at the recently renamed Duberstein Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y.

In addition to the winning University of Texas School of Law teams and students, a team from the University of Miami took third place overall, while a team from Texas Tech Law School finished in fourth place. Other top briefs were submitted by students from the University of Alabama, the University of Miami and the University of Houston. The top oralist award went to a student at Southern Methodist University.

The national bankruptcy moot court competition is sponsored by the ABI and St. John's School of Law in Queens, N.Y.  The ABI Endowment Fund provides cash awards to the winning participants, while St. John's provides plaques.

More than two dozen bankruptcy judges from around the country served on the quarter-final and semi-final rounds as judges. The final round bench consisted of federal appeals court judges R. Guy Cole (6th Circuit), Steven Colloton (8th Circuit), Gerald Tjoflat (11th Circuit) and Wallace Tashima (9th Circuit), along with federal bankruptcy judges Carla Craig (Chief Judge, E.D.N.Y.) and Stuart Bernstein (S.D.N.Y.).