Mentorship in International Moot Program Expands LLM Student Knowledge of International Law


Nicolle Lafosse

Nicolle Lafosse is already a lawyer in her native country, Honduras. She worked at her parents' boutique firm in Tegucigalpa, assisting international investment clients with real estate transactions and residency applications. She came to Miami Law to earn an LL.M. in U.S. and Transnational Law and would like to, one day, service more of the firm's clients in a satellite office in Miami.

In a few weeks, Lafosse is traveling to Spain, to argue at the Moot Madrid, the international commercial arbitration competition.

Lafosse participates in Miami Law’s International Moot Court Program - designed to teach students not only written and oral skills but also all necessary skills to persuade in law at international venues. As the training takes place during the academic year, students also have the opportunity to network with practitioners, experts, and former participants in the inter-school competitions, either based in Miami or other cities around the world.

"Moot Court has opened my eyes," Lafosse says. "I thought international law was just neutral law; that both parties agreed to. I never understood how it works. I didn't know the actual meaning of arbitration had I not come to Miami Law and joined the moot court."

The Moot Madrid, founded in 2009, is an arbitration competition for law students conducted entirely in Spanish. Teams from law schools from all countries are eligible to compete. Each year, Moot Madrid involves a case-study to be settled by recourse to international commercial arbitration, where different law bodies from Uniform Law (transport of goods, international bankruptcy, electronic commerce, international sale of goods, for example) are applicable.

Moot Madrid features both written and oral pleadings, and Miami Law came in second place at the competition in 2014 and 2015 and was the only American law school to participate.

In addition to the moot court program, while at Miami Law Lafosse has researched immigration reform policies and analyzed the Dream Act. She has also drilled down on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" laws.

The 25-year-old graduated from UNITEC, the Central American Technical University, with the equivalent to a J.D., and could have settled in comfortably in the family firm. She speaks, reads, and writes in two languages, thanks to a rigorous high school education.

"But I felt that I wanted to bring something else to the firm," she says. "I am fluent in English and Spanish, and can analyze documents in either language.”

However, she said the business culture in Honduras is far different than what she has experienced in the United States. "Unfortunately, the system there is based on who you know and what social status you have," she says. "You could have perfect grades, and be an excellent attorney, but without the right connections that often isn't enough to get your court filings signed off."

Also, she said, in Honduras there are only two branches of law that you can chose from when pursuing a law masters. "And I didn't want to do either," she says. "Coming to Miami Law, I could have a higher degree, and I want to contribute intellectually to my parents’ firm." She decided to pursue a Master’s Degree with an international component.

Students in the International Moot Court Program, run by Professor Paula Arias, participate in moot competitions around the world, representing Miami Law. Appearing before a mock International Tribunal, students act as counselors and advocate the different sides of a case based on a problem written by an organization or school. The students analyze the problem, identify the legal issues, research the law, write the briefs, and orally present it to the moot court. In essence, the students learn how to litigate a case in front of an international tribunal doing what an attorney does in real life.

Miami Law is expanding the program to include new moot competitions and areas of international law with the intention of offering a wider variety of topics of interest to students during the 2016-2017 academic year.

"I came to UM and Miami Law because many other schools didn't offer international moot court nor did they have the kinds of connections that UM has to recognizable names in the field," Lafosse says. "Also, the mentoring here is far different than what one would receive at other universities, like Professor Paula Arias.

"She is tough," Lafosse says, "but I love it because it always pushes you to be better and to persevere. It is very motivating, trying to achieve perfection, or at least something close to it."