Winning LSU Law’s internal trial competitions brings an air of prestige and accomplishment to students. But with their victories in the Fall 2016 semester, Robert Lee Tullis Moot Court winners Sara Kuebel and Sarah Nickel and Ira S. Flory Mock Trial winners Caity Cline and Rome Gonsoulin also made history.
The victories marked the first time at LSU Law that all-female teams were victorious in the two competitions.
Teams of two males winning the Flory and Tullis trials were the norm in LSU Law’s past, and in recent school history, mixed male-female teams winners have become commonplace. This year, however, was a clean sweep for female law students.
It’s a milestone that the competitions’ winners are proud of achieving.
“It’s a great year and a great reflection of our program,” Gonsoulin said. “I think it’s a good reflection of how women at LSU are encouraged and are valued here. Women are coached to be on top of their game, and we go up against the boys and we play with the boys and we beat the boys.”
The female-driven Flory and Tullis results were no coincidence either. In the final round of the two competitions, seven of the eight students in the two-person teams were female. Kuebel and Nickel defeated another all-female team of Alyssa Depew and Josie Serigne for the Tullis title, while Cline and Gonsoulin bested Doug Nielsen and Halee Snellgrove Maturin for the Flory win.
Gonsoulin said she and Cline were encouraged by their professors at LSU to work as an all-female team, rather than follow what she called the “unspoken rule” of pairing males and females together on one team.
“We want to put the image out there that two women can go be attorneys together, can work well together with other women, treat each other as professionals and be perceived as professionals,” she said.
While the four students are proud of the historic achievement, making headlines was far from their minds during the competitions. Instead, they said, they relied on their teamwork and trust in one another to catapult them through the tournament.
Kuebel and Nickel, both 2Ls, said their friendship began with their placement in Section 1 their 1L year. Through their classes and working on the Louisiana Law Review, they said they developed a good sense of working together.
Through working together in previous trial competitions, Gonsoulin and Cline said they’ve developed a strong connection in the courtroom. Cline said many times during the competition, Gonsoulin would start writing notes to her partner and Cline would understand and follow the advice before the note could be finished.
“She could physically stop writing and I’d check it off like, ‘I’ve got it,’” Cline said. “You have to be able to trust your partner. I think that’s one of the biggest things that (Rome) and I have really established and really formed a strong foundation on.”
“We’ve worked together for so long that we’ve built that trust,” Gonsoulon added. “That’s one of the best things about these competitions: I get to work with one of my best friends, and you don’t get to do that all the time in real life.”
Like real-life legal work, though, this year’s competitions were decided by prominent legal experts and judges. Louisiana 19th Judicial District Court Judge Anthony Marabella, East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore and Baton Rouge Chief Public Defender Michael Mitchell presided over the final round of the Flory competition, while U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeal Judge J. Michael McDonald and LSU Law Center Dean Tom Galligan judged the end of the Tullis trial.
“It was nerve-racking,” Nickel said. “You never know what a judge is going to throw out at you, but just because this is a federal judge and an appellate judge doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be more difficult. If anything, it made me want to do better because of the people to impress.”
The students also had another audience to impress. This year’s final rounds were live-streamed, giving the students’ friends and families the opportunity to watch them compete in a courtroom.
For Cline and Gonsoulon, both of whom hail from Texas, it meant their families were able to see their legal skills for the first time.
“Most of our families have never seen us compete before. They’ve heard about all the trophies we’re winning, but they don’t see us,” Gonsoulon said. “I really love seeing my family’s reaction when they watch because they get to see a new side of you. Your lawyer self isn’t like your normal self, and I really appreciated my family telling me, ‘Y’all look so much like a team. Y’all work well together.’ I think that was probably one of my favorite parts about just the final round itself.”
As for the future, Gonsoulin and Cline are working to finish up their time in law school this spring. Following graduation, Cline has hopes of doing legal work in an international setting — a goal she believes will be helped by LSU Law’s comparative law education — and Gonsoulin will prepare to take the bar exam in Texas.
Kuebel and Nickel said they’re exploring the idea of doing more trial competitions during their 3L year, adding that these courtroom contests supplement their legal education at LSU.
“There’s no downside to putting yourself out there and doing it because it’s just a great learning experience,” Nickel said. “It builds up your confidence because you learn that it’s not the end of the world if you say, ‘um.’ Everything’s fine.”
And years after all four students have graduated and return to LSU Law for a class reunion, they know they have made history at the more than 110-year-old law school.
“If you look at all of the names on the moot court plaque that’s (outside the LSU Law Robinson Courtroom), it’s all men’s names,” Kuebel said. “So it’s going to be really cool to see the names of these two women, both of us memorialized at the Law Center.”