The U.S. State Department has awarded California Western’s Instituto Latinoamericano de Derecho y Justicia (Latin American Institute of Law and Justice) a $3.5m grant to extend their Mexican Moot Court Program for an additional two years.
“That is fantastic news,” says Karen Sigmond, Associate Director of the Instituto. “This grant will enable us to continue to train Mexican law students on the trial skills they need to practice within Mexico’s new justice system.”
The grants will fund trial team trainings, as well as regional and national moot court competitions in Mexico. The popular competitions are now in their sixth year and are open to students at the more than 2,000 law schools throughout Mexico. With close to 1,000 students and coaches taking part in the competition overall, the program continues to grow in stature and popularity.
“I’m so proud of the work we are doing in Mexico,” says Justin Brooks, Director of the Instituto and a professor at California Western. “We are training the future leaders of the Mexican justice system. Our work will change the country forever.”
More than 200 teams of four students and a coach apply every year. Each team must then submit a video which is reviewed by an expert panel of judges. Upon evaluation, the teams are then reduced from 200 to 72.
“Those 72 teams compete in regional competitions from which 16 teams move on to the finals in Tijuana,” says Sigmond. “The finalists will receive a trip to San Diego to visit our court systems and talk with judges, public defenders, DAs, and police officers. That allows them to see the different actors in our U.S. legal system in action. We also bring them to Cal Western, where we arrange for them to attend a series of conferences.”
Winning teams are awarded a study trip to Washington, D.C., and other valuable academic experiences, including scholarships to the Instituto’s Maestría Program—California Western’s one-year hybrid residential and online LL.M. degree program.
“It’s a logistical monster,” admits Sigmond. “Moving that many people to different locations, the training, securing judges, and the competition itself takes a lot of planning.”
Through the years, however, Sigmond has seen the huge benefits the program has brought. “We have been able to reach students even in very remote places in Mexico to give them training by U.S. lawyers, and that’s amazing,” she says. “Teaching trial skills to Mexican law students is part of promoting the rule of law. The benefit is a better functioning legal system in Mexico.”
The ultimate aim of the program is for the Mexican law schools to undertake their own moot court competitions, and Sigmond and her team provide training to the universities on how to organize competitions.
“We are already starting to see that,” says Sigmond. “Which is very encouraging. Not only are these grants impacting Mexican law students in a very positive way today, but they are also providing the training for these law schools to carry out the moot court competitions themselves in the future.”
The California Western Instituto Latinoamericano de Derecho y Justicia is focused on legal education and reform throughout Latin America. The Instituto offers four programs, ACCESO Capacitación, Maestría en Derecho, the Mexican Moot Court Program, and REDlnocente. For more information visit ildj.cwsl.edu