Two UConn undergraduates have earned a spot in a national Moot Court competition that will take place at Florida International University College of Law in January. Luke LaRosa ’16 (CLAS) and Snigdha Mamillapalli ’16 (BUS), who compete as a team, are junior Honors students and members of the Special Program in Law.
Moot Court competitions are common in law school, but are now growing in popularity at the undergraduate level as well. UConn’s undergraduate Moot Court was established in 2013, with pre-law advisor Edward Kammerer Jr. as coach.
“Moot Court teaches legal reasoning, but it also stresses critical analysis, public speaking, and flexibility,” says Kammerer.
A student may have a perfectly rehearsed speech, but a judge will interrupt at any moment, even mid-sentence. The teams prepare for this by thoroughly understanding every aspect of the case and the arguments. They can’t be tied to planned arguments. The judges require students to adapt their arguments to their questions.
“It takes skill and quick thinking, combined with knowledge of the case and the law, to succeed during Moot Court,” Kammerer adds.
LaRosa and Mamillapalli are among five teams of two that UConn sent to the Eastern Regional qualifying competition in November in Fitchburg, Mass. In addition to his place at nationals, LaRosa earned a “Top Orator” honor, which was awarded to the top 10 debaters. He placed fourth out of the 124 competitors.
Each year, the mock appellate court case alternates between civil and criminal. This year’s Moot Court issue was abortion. The topics selected are intended to pique students’ interest. During the tournament, each member of the two-person team has 10 minutes to present his or her argument, debating different precedents of existing case law related to the issue.
The UConn Moot Court team practiced weekly during the semester, and almost daily in the days leading up to the competition.
“Moot Court is a lot of work, but its benefits extend well-beyond the competitions,” says LaRosa. “I’ve been able to apply the skills I’ve learned to other courses and projects, including those not legally oriented. Moot Court helps me, and I think all of us on the team, think more critically about how we construct arguments on any topic.“
Moot Court teaches legal reasoning, but it also stresses critical analysis, public speaking, and flexibility. — Edward Kammerer Jr.
LaRosa, who comes from Vermont, is a double major in urban and community studies and geography, and is also a member of the master’s in public administration fast-track program. In addition to competing with the UConn Moot Court team, LaRosa works at the UConn Writing Center, has an internship with the Connecticut State Data Center, and is engaged in research regarding urban neighborhood development in Hartford. He was also a 2013 Holster Scholar and was recently named a member of the competitive Leadership Legacy Experience program. His career goals include working in regional planning with an emphasis in land use law and policy.
Mamillapalli is a Connecticut resident who is majoring in management information systems and philosophy. She is a resident assistant, a mentor with the Peer Allies Through Honors student group, and secretary for UConn Change Lives, which raises money for children in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India. She has earned various scholarships, held several internships, including some in the legal field, and speaks multiple languages. She plans to attend law school after completing her undergraduate degree.
“What first interested me about Moot Court was the opportunity to develop my public speaking skills while focusing on constitutional issues,” she says. “There’s nothing quite like getting up in front of a panel of real judges and attorneys, and having them interrupt and question the argument you’ve developed for months. It’s definitely a challenge and a thrill that has advanced my critical thinking skills.”
The UConn Moot Court team, a student organization partially funded by USG, is open to all undergraduate students. The team hopes to send several students to the national tournament event in Miami to support LaRosa and Mamillapalli, and continue the lessons learned from the Moot Court experience.
The tournament is hosted by the American Collegiate Moot Court Association.