by Frank Garza
The day that A.J. Bellido de Luna, J.D., Hardy Director of Advocacy and Service Professor, was supposed to cancel the St. Mary’s University School of Law’s Lone Star Classic for the fall, three other advocacy competitions had been canceled.
He paused. What was going on? By this point, it was April. In March, his students had their spring competitions taken from them. Hours and hours of preparation went untested. He remembered their disappointed faces.
“There had to be another way,” he said. That thinking would not only lead St. Mary’s Law to launch a new form of online competition, but also to the law school assisting the American Bar Association with two of its national competitions and possibly more.
Trying to regroup the Lone Star Classic, Bellido de Luna reached out to a couple of schools to see if they were willing to do something online in hopes of hosting a tournament.
Loyola University New Orleans, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, UCLA, UC Berkeley and UC San Diego were among the first to sign up. Shortly after, Pace University in New York and the Inter American University of Puerto Rico also offered to help. Suddenly, the schools were looking at hosting a March Madness-style, 64-team tournament. The Lone Star Classic was reborn as the National All Star Bracket Challenge.
“A lot of schools loved the fact that we stepped up at a time when others were stepping down, not because they wanted to, but because they didn’t have the support or the resources to move forward,” said Bellido de Luna, who is president-elect of the National Association of Law Advocacy Educators. “The positivity behind this has been outrageous.”
St. Mary’s created two more tournaments with partner schools as a result: the All Star National Challenge, which took place in November, and the National All Star Moot Competition (with the help of South Texas College of Law), which begins oral arguments in January. Together, these competitions will have hosted 140 schools and 150 teams from 34 states and two U.S. territories.
To level the playing field for all involved, each competing school received the same equipment: two high-definition cameras, two studio-quality microphones, a hub to plug them into, extension cords and a stand for their iPad or cellphone.
“It is definitely harder to host a tournament online. There are a lot of things that can and will go wrong,” Bellido de Luna said. “That’s just the nature of technology.”
When the American Bar Association heard about what St. Mary’s Law and its partner schools had done, they reached out asking for assistance. During the regional competitions this fall, St. Mary’s Law offered technical assistance so that the ABA’s negotiations and arbitration tournaments could do online scoring and behind-the-scenes tabulations.
St. Mary’s also helped with national moot court championships through November. It will also assist with the National Moot Court Competition finals in February, co-sponsored by the New York City Bar Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers; and will assist with the National Trial Competition in February, co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Texas Young Lawyers Association. St. Mary’s will provide bailiff training, judge training, competitor resources, on-call help and assistance with developing the rules for remote competition.
“We were the first school to say, ‘We’re going to do this,’” Bellido de Luna said. “To some degree, we had to make it up as we went along, but we’re learning.”