VERMILLION, S.D. – For one University of South Dakota law student, effective advocacy is not defined by mere memorization; rather, the key to her success has been her ability to authentically and effectively engage her audience.
Morgan Erickson, class of 2020, grew up in Gayville, South Dakota, and graduated from Vermillion High School in 2011. Erickson did not immediately pursue law school; instead, she started her post-college career teaching English composition at South Dakota State University where she earned her undergraduate degree.
“I had a lot of encouragement from friends to consider law school,” said Erickson. “I also knew Professor [David] Day. He thought it might be for me. Finally, I decided to jump into it.”
At law school, Erickson gravitated toward moot court.
“I loved writing, but I thought my talent was speaking. Moot court seemed like a good balance,” Erickson said.
As a member of USD law’s 14-member Moot Court Board, Erickson has achieved high honors. This past season she and her team members advanced to the quarterfinal round at both the Frank A. Schreck Gaming Law Moot Court Competition hosted by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas William S. Boyyd School of Law, and the Region 14 - New York City Bar Moot Court Competition hosted in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With distinction, she also earned the top oral advocate award at both tournaments.
“Morgan represents a lot of what defines this moot court board,” said Sean Kammer, a USD law professor and advisor and coach of the team. “She works hard, she competes passionately and ethically, and she does it all while also having quite a bit of fun.”
Erickson said she’s grown more comfortable as an advocate through her participation in moot court competitions.
“I’m trying to have a conversation with the judges. The key focus should be helping the panel better understand the case. I’m advocating for my client, but I view my role as being genuinely there to help the judges too,” Erickson said.
The skill and talent Erickson displays in the courtroom has helped her grow more confident personally as well.
“I think one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that it is good to put yourself out there and take risks. Being resilient is a good thing,” Erickson said.
“Morgan is incredibly receptive to instruction and feedback. She refuses to settle. As talented as she is, she knows she still has plenty to learn, as we all do. Over the past two years, she has found her voice as a lawyer. This is no small thing,” said Kammer.
Her teammates also laud her talent in the courtroom. “I am most impressed with her ability to pivot and frame answers to questions in a positive way," said Aspen Bechen, a second-year law student and teammate of Erickson this past season.
Bechen has also been impressed with the friendship and assistance she has received from Erickson the past year.
“She’s a very kind person,” said Bechen. “Especially for me, I joined moot court because it got me out of my comfort zone. She was more than happy to do extra practice rounds even though she didn’t need the practice. I was nervous for every competition, but Morgan was there every step of the way.”
As Erickson looks back at her successful moot court career, she said she appreciated all the help she received from teammates, coaches and faculty. She said the best advise she received was from former USD Law School dean, Barry Vickery.
“Rather than just memorize, Dean Vickery uses the word ‘internalize,’” said Erickson. “Yes, you should know all the aspects of your case, but you should acclimate yourself to the situation so you can truly pull forward what you need to say. To me, that’s what effective advocacy is all about.”