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Akron Law team qualifies for national competition

Akron Law part-time 3Ls David Wolfram and Nicolette Drotos will compete in the national finals of the American Bar Association Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition. This after placing first in the regional competition held at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law on Feb. 11. Full-time 1Ls Heather Steele and Kelsey Ewing took second place. Pictured here after the regional finals from the left are David Wolfram, Nicolette Drotos, President Matt Wilson, Heather Steele and Kelsey Ewing. (Photo courtesy of The University of Akron School of Law)

Legal News Reporter

Published: February 27, 2017

For the second year in a row, two students from The University of Akron School of Law will compete in the national finals of the American Bar Association Law Student Division Client Counseling Competition.

Akron Law part-time 3Ls David Wolfram and Nicolette Drotos have been participating in the client counseling competition for three years. Last year they not only made it to the finals at Baylor University Law School in Waco, Texas, they placed third in the nation.

Now they’re set to compete a second time in the 2017 nationals, which take place March 17 to 18 at The University of Oklahoma College of Law in Norman, Oklahoma. This after they took first place at the Feb. 11 regional competition held at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law—one of 12 such contests around the country.

“It was a very hard-fought victory,” said Wolfram. “Nicolette and I complement each other quite well. Even when we research and study the same information, we both have different ideas about how to apply it.”

This year’s topic was privacy law, which Drotos said required more in-depth research.

“The area of privacy law is constantly changing because of technology,” said Drotos. “Last year the topic was criminal law, which I had a better understanding of.

“I would say we spent more time doing our research than practicing this time.”

Those who participate in the client counseling competition get the chance to test their legal knowledge, interviewing and problem-solving skills as they work to come up with solutions to dilemmas faced by fictional clients.

The teams are evaluated by a panel of three judges, including two attorneys and one non-legal professional, that look at their professionalism, teamwork, fact-finding and interpersonal skills in the context of an initial client interview.

Matthew J. Wilson, president of The University of Akron, started the competition at the law school in the 2014-15 academic year back when he was the dean at Akron Law. He continues to serve as coach.

“It’s all about the students,” said Wilson. “Although my time is even more scarce as president, I believe it’s important to provide our law students with hands-on experience and practical training. By investing my time and applying my expertise, I am hoping that this is an invaluable skills development opportunity for our students.”

He said the event mirrors the real world in many respects.

“Students walk into the competition with little or no advance notice of what they are dealing with,” said Wilson. “They have 45 minutes to conduct an initial client interview in a simulated law office setting. The interaction includes establishing an attorney-client relationship, fact-finding, exploring solutions through traditional and nontraditional means, providing some initial guidance and dealing with fees.”

Nine teams competed in the regionals in Pittsburgh. The top six teams advanced to the semifinal round, where they went head to head, with only three teams making it to finals.

Akron Law full-time 1Ls Hugh McDaniel and Amanda Zganjar and Heather Steele and Kelsey Ewing, all took part in the regional competition. 

They qualified after competing in the intraschool competition on Jan. 14. McDaniel and Zganjar came in second and Steele and Ewing took first place in that event.

Drotos and Wolfram were exempt from the intraschool contest since they won last year’s regional competition and placed third in the national finals, said Wilson.

“We automatically advanced them because the ABA (American Bar Association) allowed us to bring three teams to regionals this year,” said Wilson.

The regional competition featured a total of five scenarios centered around privacy law--three during the preliminary rounds, one in the semifinal portion and a single one during the final round.

Akron Law students tested their skills against teams from The George Washington University Law School, Washington and Lee University School of Law, the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law and Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law.

All three Akron Law teams advanced to the semifinals, with Drotos and Wolfram and Steele and Ewing making it to the final round.

“Our client in the final round was a man whose son had died in a car accident,” said Ewing. “His son was decapitated and a photographer took pictures and released them to a website. The man wanted the photos taken down and the website shut down. The website argued it was freedom of speech.”

In the end, Drotos and Wolfram took first place and Ewing and Steele came in second.

“I am very interested in litigation,” said Steele, a native of Warren, Ohio. “The competition was a great opportunity to learn how to work with clients. As a 1L, I haven’t had any practical experience talking with a client prior to this competition.

“It was also a chance to get to know President Wilson, who provided a tremendous amount of feedback as our coach,” said Steele, who has a bachelor’s degree in political science from UMass (University of Massachusetts) Lowell.

Ewing said the experience has piqued her interest in becoming a litigator.

“I hadn’t considered litigation before participating in this competition,” said Ewing, who grew up in Fredericktown, Ohio and has a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Ohio University. “I had no idea litigation could be so enjoyable or that it was one of my strengths.”

Akron Law interim co-dean Sarah M.R. Cravens said the competition allows students to develop “direct practice-ready skills.

“Lawyers all have to be able to interact with clients,” said Cravens. “When a student learns to do this in competitive mode he/she has the drive to do it well.

“It’s a great competition and students really enjoy it,” said Cravens. “Most of them have not had the chance to do anything quite like it before.”

In the case of Steele and Ewing, they said they plan to compete again next year when Akron Law will host a regional competition.

“I’m usually not a competitive person but this event brought out my competitive side,” said Ewing.

“During the regionals Kelsey and I felt very confident as a team,” said Steele. “We were able to beat students at some very impressive schools.

“We are already getting excited about participating again next year. We are hoping to do even better.”

As for Drotos and Wolfram, they plan to start preparing for the national finals the first week of March. They will be competing against the winners from the other regional competitions.

While both are eyeing a win, they said regardless of the outcome it would be their last year taking part in the client counseling competition.

“I’ve enjoyed preparing and participating this past year,” said Wolfram, who expects to graduate in the fall of 2018. “I have been fortunate to be in a situation this year where I am only working part time, which also allowed me to take part in the Moot Court Competition in addition to the Client Counseling Competition.

“Next year I expect to return to full-time employment,” said Wolfram, who lives in Streetsboro and works as a sales assistant for Marriott Hotels. “That will leave me with less free time.”

Drotos, now an intern in the Legal Defenders Office of Summit County, said she plans to spend next year concentrating on her internship and remaining courses. The Aurora resident is set to graduate in 2018.

“I love the competition and it’s a great way to get experience, but I probably won’t compete again,” said Drotos.