KU Law team claims top advocacy prize at Indian law moot court competition

LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas School of Law team received the highest advocacy honors at the National Native American Law Students Association Moot Court Competition in Berkeley, California.

Second-year law students Karen Fritts, of Olathe, and Zachary Kelsay, of Independence, Missouri, received the competition’s first-place award for Best Overall Advocates on Feb. 23 at the University of California, Berkeley’s School of Law. Kelsay and Fritts also placed in the top three out of 68 teams in the competition.

“This team continued KU's long tradition of excellence in the NNALSA competition and has represented the law school and our Indian law program with class and grace,” said Shawn Watts, director of Tribal Law & Government Center and team co-coach.

This is the fifth time in the past six years that KU Law has placed in the top three at the NNALSA competition. KU Law teams brought home the national championship in 2016 and 2019 as well as second-place finishes in 2015 and 2017.

“NNALSA allowed me to educate myself to the legal, social and rhetorical challenges facing tribes. I learned to be an advocate for tribal interests and became a more socially aware student of the law,” Kelsay said. “I am thankful for the community that came together to help Karen and I succeed at the competition.”

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. This year’s competition involved a hypothetical problem related to complex administrative law and federal Indian law.

“What impressed me most about this team was their humility and willingness to learn. Most were engaging with federal Indian law for the first time, so it was truly an inspiration to watch them grow into effective, yet culturally competent legal advocates,” said Becky Howlett, an adjunct professor of federal Indian law and a 2014 graduate of KU Law. “By prioritizing cultural awareness, professionalism and humility, our students are cultivating true leadership skills that will serve them well in the law and in life.”

Three additional KU teams competed at the event, including David Biegel, of Anchorage, Alaska; Michelle Brady, of Omaha, Nebraska; Austyn Caisse, of Santa Cruz, California; Aidan Graybill, of Scottsdale, Arizona; Shaye Maetzold, of Wichita; and Benjamin Ramberg, of Topeka.

“Federal Indian law is as complicated as it is important,” Fritts said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to learn about the challenges tribes face with the help of the KU team and our coaches.”

With 68 teams, this year’s competition was one of NNALSA’s largest ever. The final rounds were judged by a panel of esteemed Indian law scholars and practitioners, including U.S. Circuit Judge William Cameron Canby Jr. of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Judge Diane Joyce Humetewa of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona.

Other highlights from the 2019-2020 moot court season thus far:

  • Third-year law student Tara Mollhagen was a runner-up in the elite invitation-only “The Closer” National Transactional Law Competition at Baylor Law School on Jan. 16-19. Law schools invited to compete are limited to one student entrant per school and must have excelled at previous transactional law competitions or in the area of transactional training.
  • Third-year law students Hannah Lustman and Diana Stanley were finalists in the Pace Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition on Feb. 20-22. With this achievement, the team was in the top three out of 55 teams. Lustman won the award for Best Oralist in all three preliminary rounds.
  • Third-year law students Lewis Walton and Zack Royle advanced to the semi-final round of the regional Duberstein Bankruptcy Moot Court Competition in Chicago on Feb. 17. Walton won the award for Best Oralist at the regional competition. Walton and Royle will compete in the national round of the competition from Feb. 29 – March 2 in Jamaica, New York.
  • Third-year law students Abbey Lee and Mary-Colleen Fowler advanced to the elite eight round of the 26th Anniversary Burton D. Wechsler National First Amendment Moot Court Competition in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 25-26, 2019.
  • Third-year law students TJ Blake and Andi Leuszler advanced to the quarterfinal round of the National Criminal Procedure Moot Court Competition in San Diego on Nov. 1-3, 2019.