Pivoting with excellence: All-star professor leads the way for national virtual advocacy competitions

January 06, 2021

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.  

AJ Bellido de Luna G&B_Web
A.J. Bellido de Luna, J.D.

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.” 

More about how the St. Mary's University School of Law community responded to the pandemic:

Pivoting with excellence: Law assistant dean forges new digital connections

In some ways, going virtual has made it easier for the Office for Law Student Affairs to meet with students, said Alan K. Haynes, J.D., Assistant Dean for Law Student Affairs. Setting up meetings with students before could be difficult, especially if they lived outside San Antonio. Even if it’s just a conversation, Haynes will use Zoom instead of the phone to talk to the student.

Pivoting with excellence: Law associate dean brings legal topics into focus through online instruction

Even before COVID-19 hit, Colin P. Marks, J.D., Associate Dean for Graduate and Summer Programs and Ernest W. Clemens Professor of Law, was certified to teach classes online. So, when he pivoted his approach mid-semester last spring, his students continued to learn through short video lectures with quizzes and a once-a-week Zoom session to discuss learning objectives and questions.

Pivoting with excellence: Law externship director helps prep students for virtual practice

Hustling to move the law school’s Externship Program online by summer, Amanda Rivas (J.D. ’09), Director of Externships, said her main focus was on supporting externship supervisors and externs as they switched to remote working environments, ensuring that students would continue to receive challenging work and feedback.

Pivoting with excellence: Law associate dean hones sense of gratitude through online transition

This fall, Ramona L. Lampley, J.D., Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Professor of Law, kept students engaged through a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous components, coupled with multiple assessments and a flipped classroom model.

Pivoting with excellence: St. Mary’s Law adapts in response to pandemic

This year, the St. Mary’s University School of Law community joined together as never before to meet the needs of its student body and the San Antonio region.

Pivoting with excellence: Law students and alumni unite to provide remote services to health care workers

Several St. Mary's Law students and alumni joined an effort by the San Antonio Legal Services Association (SALSA) to draft wills for health care workers battling COVID-19 on the frontlines in San Antonio this summer.

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