Cooley team finishes 1st in the region; heads to national competition

Cooley Law School’s ABA Client Counseling Team took top honors at the Region 6 competition Feb. 16 and advances to the finals in March.

Students Gadiel Espinoza and Abbey Rihtarshick entered the final round in third place. With a practical legal education firmly in place, and a sharp attention to detail, however, they bested both Creighton University School of Law and the Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University.

The case before the contestants included a cleverly underplayed element that could parallel real-life dilemmas in legal practice – and possibly made the difference in this competition.

Professor and Associate Dean Christine Church, the team’s coach, said that the client mentioned at the beginning of this initial client interview that she’d been given three referrals for a lawyer and they were the first lawyers on her list. In the post-consultation conference that was part of the competition, Espinoza said to Rihtarshick, “Abbey, Abbey, Abbey — I don’t know about this one. She’s obviously lawyer shopping and looking for a lot of free advice. As far as follow up, we’re not doing another thing on this case until she returns the retainer agreement.”

Church was thrilled with the team’s perceptiveness. “Nobody else caught that, or expressed that level of skepticism,” she said. “They were also the only team that suggested using mediation as a problem-solving method to obtain the results that were important to the client.”

A second Cooley team of Clayton Jipping and Vincent Anyaso advanced to the semi-final round, but in the power seeding process had to compete against the other Cooley team, and only one team could advance.

Church said the level of competition at the Region 6 tournament was the best she’d ever seen, including several powerhouse teams in client counseling. Creighton, University of Louisville, Northern Kentucky and Valparaiso participated in the Region 6 competition and in recent years have won their regional competition and advanced to the national competition. The University of Michigan and New England Law School also participated in the Region 6 competition this year.

Espinoza and Rihtarshick are both students at Cooley’s Lansing campus. Rihtarshick is a weekend student and Espinoza is a clinical student at Cooley’s Sixty Plus, Inc. Elderlaw Clinic where he practices under Michigan’s third-year practice rule representing clients. They and the team of Jipping and Anyaso, were coached by Church and fellow Cooley Professor Pat Mock, supported and co-coached by Cooley students and team alternates Erin Miter and Brian Spitler, and assisted by Associate Dean Nelson Miller with the topic for the year, employment law.

Espinoza and Rihtarshick’s victory marks the fourth win in five years for Cooley at the Region 6 competition. The national competition will be held at Baylor University in Waco, Texas in March.

Cooley is known for its strong competition teams. This top regional win closely follows a fifth-in the-nation result in the 2013 ABA Negotiation Competition, second place in the nation finish for Cooley’s National Trial Advocacy team in November 2012, a first place finish in the 2011 ABA Client Counseling Competition, and other wins.