A Highlight on Student Achievement: Rashae Williams
Saint Louis University's Black Law Students Association Mock Trial and the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court teams garnered great success in their respective competitions this spring. Both teams advanced to final rounds in Washington, D.C. Besides their dedication, intellect, and passion, there was another common thread on both teams: 2L Rashae Williams.
Rashae Williams always had an interest in the law, focusing on criminal law throughout her undergraduate and graduate studies. Before attending SLU School of Law, Williams worked as a probation officer.
“Seeing clients after they’ve been sentenced and after they’ve already seen a lawyer was really hard for me," Williams said. "The majority of my clients were people of color. It was hard to see people fall into that cycle, especially with how difficult the probation process can be. “It made me realize I wanted to be involved before they got to that point.”
As a BLSA member, Williams participated in the annual Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition in Chicago, despite one challenge.
“Well, I am terrified by public speaking,” Williams admitted. “So, I said that I’m just going to expose myself to it. And I’m so glad I did.”
In this tournament, BLSA teams from law schools across the nation compete. To get to the national rounds, the team of Williams, Heaven Persaud, Diarra Payne, and Carter Jensen had to first earn their spot at the regional competition at Loyola University Chicago, where Midwestern law schools gathered. Austynn Hicks also represented SLU LAW by overseeing 15 teams as the Midwest regional director.
The BLSA team's coach, JP Bonnet-Laboy (’18), a previous competitor and current assistant director of diversity and inclusion, used his expertise to lead the team.
“I knew nothing beforehand. But he taught us where to stand, where to look, how to ask. He set the expectations and gave us the tools of how to meet them,” Williams said. “JP really puts out professional pristine attorneys. It made me feel comfortable and empowered and ready to go. With JP as a coach, it showed that SLU LAW was doing it differently. Everything was going to be neat and tidy and how it should be.”
Around the same time, Williams was preparing a second visit to Chicago. The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court competition is the largest international moot court competition, with participants from roughly 700 law schools in 100 countries and jurisdictions. The International Rounds require students to first write a memorial, a written legal document that contains information about the case at hand, then argue their side in front of a panel of mock judges.
“In Moot Court, half of what you do is a huge paper,” Williams said. “My partner and I wrote more than 50 pages. You spend half of the semester researching and researching your topic to create the brief. I became a better researcher and writer. Our coaches, Professors Ira Trako and Paige Canfield, were amazing. They were always giving feedback and pointers.”
The Jessup team of Williams, Jacob Wells, Tim Sutton and Katie Hoffecker also showcased their skills at regionals. Wells and Hoffecker were the Top 10 Oralists out of more than 60 students who came to compete.
“We went there knowing that it was going to be a great experience, and we never thought we would make it. By the time we got to the final four and final three, it was mind-blowing,” Williams said.
After winning second runner-up at BLSA and second place at Jessup, Williams and the teams started planning their trips to Washington, D.C. While the BLSA competition was national, Jessup’s was global. Williams, Wells, Sutton and Hoffecker competed directly against teams from Kyrgyzstan, Austria and Turkey, one of only 13 teams to represent the United States.
Professor Ira Trako (‘11), associate director for the Center for International and Comparative Law helped prepare the team for their journey to the international law moot court competition. This was the first time SLU LAW advanced to the global round.
“What set these students apart is that they worked very well as a team. They were also passionate about the subject matter and improved their arguments after each practice” Trako said.
The team’s memorial placed 38th out of the listed 135. For individual performances, both Jacob Wells and Rashae Williams were ranked as one of the top 200 oralists at the global competition. Wells was listed as the top 26th oralist and Williams earned the 74th spot.
“For me as their coach, it was very rewarding to watch them improve as oralists. It was wonderful that they were recognized for their hard work at the competition” said Trako.
“It’s so crazy that we can all do the same thing,” Williams said, reflecting on the sight of flags of law schools around the world posted at the competition. “And it was so powerful to see that SLU LAW was there and we were competing with everyone else.”
Back at home, Williams considers what her next steps are.
“For the summer, I’ll be at a prosecutor's office. Which is new for me, since I’m typically on the defense, but I think it’ll be really good for me to see the other side of the bench," Williams said.
With both competitions behind her, Williams has one overarching goal for her next year at SLU LAW: “Now, I just want to focus on being excellent.”