LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas School of Law team was crowned as the national champion of this year’s National Native American Law Students Association (NNALSA) Moot Court Competition.
Third-year law student Zachary Kelsay, of Independence, Missouri, and first-year law student Emily Depew, of Neodesha, defeated Columbia Law School in the final round of the virtual competition Feb. 27. Austyn Caisse won the second-place award for Best Spoken Advocate, and Depew won the third-place award for Best Spoken Advocate.
“Competing in NNALSA would have been impossible without the support of the KU Law community,” Depew said. “We are incredibly thankful to our coaches, teammates and faculty who spent endless hours teaching us about Indian law and judging practice rounds. Preparing and participating in the competition was intellectually challenging and rewarding.”
This is the third national championship KU Law has secured at the NNALSA competition. KU Law teams brought home first-place finishes in 2016 and 2019. Teams also brought home second-place finishes in 2015 and 2017, and a third-place finish in 2020.
“The KU NALSA squad is the hardest-working team in the competition, and all of that effort shows in the results year after year. This year was no different. The whole squad worked together to sharpen one another's speaking skills and refine their legal arguments,” said Shawn Watts, director of Tribal Law & Government Center and team co-coach. “My favorite part of this year's squad is that they truly understand that success for one is success for all.”
The NNALSA competition tests students’ knowledge of Indian law by evaluating their legal writing and oral advocacy skills. Students submit written briefs and participate in a simulated courtroom experience.
“We became more confident and culturally aware advocates in learning about the economic challenges still facing Indian country after the Supreme Court’s decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma,” Kelsay said. “I am especially grateful that KU worked to develop a Zoom room for us to perform in this virtual competition.”
Three additional KU teams competed at the event, including Heddy Pierce-Armstrong, of El Dorado; Kevin Barnett, of Portsmouth, Rhode Island; David Biegel, of Anchorage, Alaska; Austyn Caisse, of Santa Cruz, California; Aidan Graybill, of Scottsdale, Arizona; and Grace Seger, of Olathe.
The NNALSA moot court teams were coached by Watts; Nancy Musick, L’19; and Chris Carey, L’19. Carey was part of KU Law’s national championship team in 2019.
“I am so proud of this team. They have worked hard for weeks — even coming to 7 a.m. practices — and it paid off. But, most importantly, this team has supported each other and focused on bringing home the gold for KU Law as a team,” Musick said. “I believe this victory is proof positive that when Jayhawks pull together, they can accomplish anything. I am already looking forward to the next NNALSA competition.”
Forty teams from law schools across the country competed. The final rounds were judged by a panel of esteemed Indian law scholars and practitioners, including Judge Diane Joyce Humetewa of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and Commissioner Erica Thunder of North Dakota’s Department of Labor and Human Rights.
Other highlights from the 2020-2021 competition season thus far:
- Third-year law students Jenny Bartos and Zach Beach advanced to the quarterfinal round of the Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition on Feb. 17-18. Bartos won the award for Best Oralist in two preliminary rounds.
- Third-year law students Rachael Simon, Emma Easom and Kirstyn Dvorak advanced to the quarterfinal round of the regional National Trial Competition on Feb. 19-21.
- Second-year law students Kalie Belt and Olivia Black and third-year law student Jon Dennis won the award for best draft at the UCLA Transactional Law Competition on Feb. 26.