UMass Law’s Black Law Students Association (BLSA) is celebrating an excellent performance at the Northeast Regional Thurgood Marshall Moot Court Competition held last weekend in Atlantic City, NJ.
Danielle Owens, JD candidate ’23, and Cameran Pottinger, JD/MPP candidate ’24, won the Best Petitioner Brief Award with a score of 97.5/100 for their brief about unconstitutional and discriminatory university admissions efforts.
The team advanced from two preliminary rounds on February 9 to the Sweet Sixteen round on February 10, when they were eliminated by a team that ultimately reached the finals.
The National Black Law Students Association (NBLSA) provides minority law students with the skills necessary to succeed in the legal profession. The Thurgood Marshall Moot Court Competition was created to provide NBLSA members with an opportunity to enhance their brief writing and advocacy skills.
According to Owens, president of the UMass Law Black Law Students Association, the fact pattern for the brief was based on the recent U.S. Supreme Court cases of Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard University and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. Owens and Pottinger were assigned the position of Petitioner and represented the fictional organization Advocates for Fair Legal Education, which appealed to the Supreme Court. They had to argue that the diversity admissions efforts at the fictional HBCU Hillman College were unconstitutional and discriminatory.
“I was very shocked when we received our scores before the oral portion of the competition but even more shocked when the results were announced at the closing gala,” said Owens. “We were competing against teams from Yale and Columbia and other T-14 schools in the Northeast region. Not to say I didn't think we stood a chance, but I wasn't entirely convinced we would win.”
“It was truly an honor and pleasure to represent UMass Law on a bigger stage,” Pottinger added. “I am truly grateful that I stepped out of my comfort zone and reached such a big achievement.”
Competition provided law students with learning opportunities and confidence
“By participating in this competition, I mostly learned how to vocally advocate for clients,” Owens said. “Writing the brief gave us a great foundation to form our oral arguments for the next step of the competition, but the hard part was getting on my feet and the practice of speaking before a court.”
“From this experience, I learned to get over my nerves and just speak,” said Pottinger. “Very shortly into the competition, I learned that I knew the case law and the facts like the back of my hand, and it became easier to advocate for my client.
“The most valuable skill that I obtained during this competition was arguing on both sides in one day. To be able to voice a passionate stance on one side and come back a couple of hours later to argue the other side is greatly needed in the legal field. As a future attorney, I will look back on this experience as I anticipate my opposing counsel’s arguments before I step into a courtroom,” she added.
Moot Court Team Coach and UMass Law Director of Advocacy Programs Julie Baker praised Owens and Pottinger for their written and oral advocacy skills and for how well they represented UMass Law School in its first appearance in this competition. “This is a great entry into this competition for UMass Law, and we look forward to building on this success in future years and creating more opportunities for our students to develop and showcase their advocacy skills,” Baker said. “I could not be prouder of our team.”
Mock Trial team was impressive in preliminary rounds
UMass Law’s BLSA Mock Trial team of Ina Chang Torres, Daniel Martinez, Ashley Martinez-Sanchez, and Kaitlyn Pichardo also turned out an excellent performance at the Constance Baker Motley Regional Mock Trial Competition, held during the same NBLSA event last weekend.
The competition is designed to develop courtroom presence, oral advocacy, and legal researching skills while participating in the various phases of a trial. Participants utilize the Federal Rules of Evidence, criminal and civil procedure, analytical skills, and advocacy.
“They did a great job in their two preliminary rounds and were narrowly excluded from advancing to the Final Four,” said Baker. “We were told that the scores were ‘very, very close.’ All of our students received a great deal of praise from their judges, spectators, and co-competitors.” These comments were echoed by the team’s coach, Visiting Professor Michael Hasday, who accompanied the team to the competition in Atlantic City.
The UMass Law students competed against eight teams in the mock trial competition and 18 in the moot court competition.
One sure reason for the teams’ successes? Retired Massachusetts District Court Judge Kevan Cunningham volunteered his time to work with UMass Law BLSA mock trial students for over a year, coming to the law school for practices every other week and holding trial advocacy panels and workshops open to all law students. “We are very grateful and appreciative to Judge Cunningham for all his time and expertise, and we look forward to continuing to work with him in the future,” said Baker.
In addition to Judge Cunningham and Professor Hasday, the BLSA teams were supported and coached by Assistant Dean of Students Julie Cahill, Director of Academic Success and Assistant Professor Amy Vaughn-Thomas, and Legal Skills Professors Jennifer Davis, James Freeley, and Rebecca Moor.