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Alyssa Rodriguez ’18 initially had no interest in moot court. It just didn’t seem like her thing.
Fast-forward nearly three years and she has become a full-throated advocate for Albany Law School’s Anthony V. Cardona ’70 Moot Court Program. In addition to serving as the program’s executive director, she also has become its most effective spokesperson.
“I heard the pitch at orientation and, I’ll be honest, it wasn’t something I wanted to do. Then I ended up volunteering for Senior Prize Trials during my 1L year and it completely changed my perception,” Rodriguez said. “Moot court truly has become a part of me as a person. Here I am—I never would have thought that at the end of my 3L year, I would be the person running it.”
Now it’s Rodriguez who is making the case for moot court. To hear her tell it, moot court presents a unique hands-on way to learn legal concepts, and also gives students a chance to put themselves in situations that might be uncomfortable, like presenting oral arguments in front of peers and judges.
“I think that those experiences are invaluable,” she said. “We’re lucky in Albany that we have Court of Appeals judges and federal judges who sit on the bench at our competitions.”
Rodriguez, who wasn’t able to participate in intra-school competitions due to her position as executive director, traveled to Boston in March to compete in the Student Trial Advocacy Competition hosted by the American Association for Justice. Her team was coached by accomplished trial attorneys William Little ’05 and Christa Book ’05. Last year, she was part of a health law appellate travel team coached by President and Dean Alicia Ouellette ’94. “She was such a great coach,” Rodriguez said of Dean Ouellette. “That’s another reason why I advocate for moot court: because you get on a personal level with alumni or faculty members that, maybe, you never would have learned from or worked alongside.”
“When I did my
cross-examination it was like an out-of-body experience; this dynamic,
forceful, and commanding personality came over me and I knew I was in my
Rodriguez is taking those moot court-honed skills to Martin Clearwater & Bell LLP, where she was recently hired to practice in medical malpractice defense. She will be working out of the firm’s New York City headquarters.
“I love civil litigation, so I’m very excited for that,” she said. “From the moment I walked through that door, every single person that I met treated me as an equal. That was huge. I can’t wait to get started.”
For Rodriguez, it’s the payoff to a journey that started in Texas, where she was raised, earned her bachelor’s degree in philosophy at Texas Tech University, and spent a year working as a recruiter for traveling nurses. “I loved my job, but I wasn’t doing what I loved. I wanted more of a connection with people.”
She became interested in law school and was particularly drawn to New York. A fan of the big city, Rodriguez wondered if studying law upstate, in the smaller capital city, would be a better fit. Her time at Albany Law’s Accepted Students Day confirmed that hunch.
“As clichéd as it sounds, I just felt that I should be learning law in these hallways,” she said. “There was such a welcoming, community feel. It truly has been the best decision I’ve ever made. And I have really benefited from getting a legal education in a place that’s completely different from Texas. I’m learning important legal principles around people who have different backgrounds than me. I think that’s really influenced what I want to do, and it has changed me as a person. I’ve really made it my home.”
Rodriguez said her most memorable moment as a law student came during the Student Trial Advocacy Competition. Having limited experience in actual competition, she was worried that she would let her teammates and coaches down.
“When we finally got to Boston, in all honesty, I had no idea what to expect—was I going to bomb or get so nervous and forget everything we've been working on for months? But as soon as I stood up there for my opening statement it was like I became another person,” she said. “When I did my cross-examination it was like an out-of-body experience; this dynamic, forceful, and commanding personality came over me and I knew I was in my element. I still tell (coach William Little ’05), ‘I don't know who that woman is in the courtroom, but I like her.’ My coaches, my teammates, and the moot court program pushed me out of my comfort zone, and saw a trial lawyer in me that I never knew I could be.”
Rodriguez received the Capital District Trial Lawyers Association Prize at commencement for her participation in the Student Trial Advocacy Competition.
Her advice to incoming law students? Get involved in moot court.
“You should be interested in moot court because you get to meet so many attorneys and judges, not just as a networking opportunity but more on a personal level,” Rodriguez said. “During my 1L year, we had former U.S. Magistrate Judge
Randolph Treece [’76] come for the undergraduate intercultural moot court competition. We taught him how to use Google Scholar and he just thought we were the coolest people. And now, every time I see him, even to this day, he knows me personally. He’ll ask, ‘How’s your mom the dentist?’ or say, ‘I used Google Scholar today.’ And I think that, as a 1L, to know somebody like Judge Treece on a personal level is really cool and incredibly valuable. I would also say that moot court has helped me understand the law on a totally different level than reading it from a casebook. That’s really important. Some people learn differently.”