PUBLISHED:April 18, 2020

Ali Bhai ’20 and Lucy ’20 win Admiralty Moot Court Competition held via Zoom


After the in-person competition was canceled, organizers arranged a virtual moot court, with 26 teams and 40 judges Zooming in from around the country.

Jack Lucy '20 Jack Lucy '20 argues during Zoom moot court tournament

Ali Shan Ali Bhai ’20 and Jack Lucy ’20 took top honors in the 27th annual Judge John R. Brown Admiralty Moot Court Competition, held via Zoom for the first time in its 27 year history. Ali Bhai was named the best oral advocate in the competition and the team’s brief was named runner-up for best petitioner’s brief. The team faced students from Florida State University in the final round.

The tournament, co-hosted this year by the University of Texas School of Law and the University of Maine School of Law, annually attracts law students and maritime lawyers from across the country and was to be held in Portland, Maine, April 1 through April 4. But after states began instituting travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders, organizers pivoted to Zoom and set up virtual “courtrooms,” complete with bailiffs. Twenty-three teams from 16 law schools were questioned and scored in three preliminary rounds by more than 40 attorneys serving as judges from their homes around the country.

“Competing in this tournament was something Jack and I have been looking forward to all year, and I’m so thankful to the host schools for hosting such a fantastic tournament in spite of the circumstances,” Ali Bhai said.

In the championship round, Ali Bhai and Lucy argued for the petitioner in the fictional case of Brooks v. Percy & Small, Inc. before a panel that included Judge Kermit V. Lipez of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit and Maine Supreme Judicial Court Justices Ellen A. Gorman and Joseph M. Jabar.

The case presented two questions of admiralty law: whether revisions to a statute governing removal of cases from federal to state court abrogate a 200-year-old rule that cases brought in state court cannot be removed to admiralty; and whether provisions in the Carriage of Goods by Sea Act abrogate common law doctrine regarding contractual limitations of liability when a cargo carrier makes an unreasonable deviation from a shipping route.

“The common strand throughout both arguments was that the Supreme Court should construe statutes governing admiralty law in light of long-standing historical practice and refrain from bringing about “sea changes” within admiralty law by broadly construing vague, ancillary, and ambiguous provisions,” Ali Bhai and Lucy said.

Ali Bhai argued from his home in Plano, Texas, while Lucy argued from his Durham apartment. The two said the virtual tournament proceeded relatively smoothly and, after a period of adjustment, felt indistinguishable from in-person argument. In fact, they found some aspects of oral advocacy easier in a virtual setting.

“You can be much more precise when citing citations of case law,” Lucy said. “If you are asked a tough question and need to reference case law to answer it, you have your outline readily accessible and can integrate it into your argument.”

In addition to feedback on their advocacy, teams also received advice on a different set of skills – how to enhance video production values and alter Zoom backgrounds to look as professional as possible. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the closure of courts across the country in March, many court proceedings have resumed online.

Ali Bhai and Lucy, who have been friends throughout law school, were the only team in the tournament to compete without a coach, though they did discuss the issues in the case with mentor Ernest Young, the Alston & Bird Professor of Law, after submitting their brief. They credited their win to smooth teamwork, willingness to incorporate counterarguments in their positions, and confident responses as a result of strong preparation.

“We were constantly refining our positions to account for some of our analytical blind spots, and the final round was a culmination of that,” Ali Bhai said.

"We work well together and have a keen sense of each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Lucy said. “With this familiarity comes a level of candor that allows us to thoughtfully critique one another’s arguments and presentation style. We could give each other blunt and critical feedback without fear of it damaging our working relationship.”

After graduation, Lucy will return to his home state to clerk for John A. Woodcock, Senior United States District Judge for the District of Maine, then will become an associate at Choate, Hall & Stewart in Boston. Ali Bhai will also return to his home state, clerking for Judge J. Campbell Barker, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Texas.

The two said that while the end of this year has been bittersweet due to the extraordinary circumstances this spring, they will have fond memories of their time at Duke Law. Ali Bhai praised faculty for going “above and beyond to help aid the transition to remote learning for us” and Lucy thanked the many classmates who have reached out to congratulate them on their win.

“We have both been very touched by their kind words and it has been refreshing, though not at all surprising, to see how supportive the Duke Law community is during these difficult times,” he said.