Earlier this month, the student leaders of Fordham Law’s three highly-successful competition teams, Bianca Bernardi ’23, Millicent Kastenbaum ’23, and Sofia La Bella ’23, wrapped up their final year of law school. Bernardi served as chairperson of Fordham Dispute Resolution Society, Kastenbaum as editor-in-chief of Moot Court, and La Bella as editor-in-chief of Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy for the 2022-2023 academic year.
All three women played instrumental roles in reviving their teams’ in-person programming this season after two-and-a-half years of remote competitions, and led their respective groups to many successes.
We asked them about their experiences as leaders this year, the lessons learned from being a part of their respective groups, and what’s next for each of them before they receive their diplomas at Fordham Law’s 116th Diploma Ceremony on May 22.
Working as a Team
Bernardi: “I think that my biggest lesson, both as a competitor [on the American Bar Association Law Student Arbitration Competition team in 2022]and as chairperson this year, was how important it is in shared experiences to intentionally make space for team members to grow as individuals.”
Kastenbaum: “When I was a competitor at the Burton D. Wechsler National First Amendment Moot Court Competition in 2021, we made it all the way to the finals. While that was an incredible experience, it was virtual. And, so, I was really excited about the prospect to potentially do all this in person—and, if not to compete myself, then to help others to do it. The first in-person competition that I got to go to was the Wechsler Competition, this time as editor-in-chief to support the new group of 2Ls and their coach. It was fun getting to bond with them, see them in action, and watch as all of their hard work paid off. Getting to be their cheerleader was so much fun, and it felt like I was coming full circle.”
La Bella: “Being a Moore has taught me the importance and value of teamwork, particularly in litigation. It’s pivotal to be able to rely on your colleagues in trial. Being in a courtroom and standing in front of a jury can be intimidating, but knowing someone has your back completely is an invaluable confidence booster and leads to tangibly better outcomes. I’ve also learned how lucky I was to join this team. I have had the chance to learn from some of the most talented trial attorneys—all of whom are former Moores. Learning litigation and trial skills from them is a particularly special experience that has given me a strong baseline knowledge and the chance to hone my skills.”
Rewards of Leadership
Bernardi: “The most rewarding part of being the DRS chairperson was building a community. Competition teams are all about learning while bonding with new friends and making new memories. It was so rewarding to know that all the work I did as chairperson allowed for each team within DRS to have this experience.”
Kastenbaum: “I think, overall, helping the 2Ls grow both as law students and appellate advocates and watching them fall in love with appellate advocacy was the most rewarding part of the year for me. We just elected the new board, and I’m incredibly proud of how far they’ve come from where they started. It’ll be very exciting to see where they will get to take the organization next year. Another highlight was watching the Maria L. Marcus National Team win regionals [at the 73rd Annual National Moot Court Competition]and watching my friend Mika Evaristo [’23] win ‘Best Oralist’ award for our region, which is really competitive. There’s this stereotype placed on women, particularly Asian women, in terms of their perception and ability to be strong oral advocates. I was incredibly proud of her, as well as the team as a whole, and so happy to watch it happen from the sidelines.”
La Bella: “The most rewarding part of being the editor-in-chief this year was our Trial Skills Bootcamp, which we hosted for the first time ever this fall. We had a variety of alumni coaches come to the school and teach [us]things like how to do a cross examination, how to write an opening, and even give an evidence crash course. I am so happy we were able to start that tradition this year, and I’m hopeful it will continue, thanks to the support of our incoming editor-in-chief Sadie LoGerfo-Olsen ’24 and our incredible alumni!”
Moments and Memories
Bernardi: “My most memorable moments as chair are definitely working with Competitions Editor Kimmy Fishman ’23 and Managing Editor Nan Zhang ’23. No matter where we were in the world, no matter what time zone, we always prioritized DRS. I was so grateful to confront stressful situations with a team that was equally committed to the success of the Society.”
Kastenbaum: “One of the reasons why I wanted to be editor-in-chief was because I really wanted to give back to the organization, which had given me so much. Because it seemed like we were transferring to being fully in-person again, I also wanted to make sure that I would be able to build up this community and make it a place where people felt like they could find like-minded individuals who really care about appellate advocacy and find friends outside of their sections. While this organization has existed for many years, being the first class after the pandemic made it feel almost like we were starting from scratch. It was daunting, but also an opportunity, I think, to leave our own mark on the organization.”
La Bella: “When I competed this past fall, my partner [Julia Tedesco ’23] won ‘Best Advocate’ for the entire competition [Summit Cup, hosted by the University of Denver in Denver, Colorado]. I felt so lucky to have worked with her the entire semester. I learned something from her every single day we worked together, and seeing her hard work pay off at the competition was such a special moment. I felt so excited for her, and am so proud to have had the chance to work with someone that talented.”
Bernardi: “I will be doing litigation at Mintz Levin. I think that the leadership skills, as well as the critical thinking, collaboration, and communication skills from competing, are transferable to all areas of professional life.”
Kastenbaum: “I’m going to be working next year as an assistant district attorney for Manhattan. I think the skills that I’ve learned through Moot Court—the legal writing and oral advocacy—are going to be incredibly helpful, no matter what job I do within the District Attorney’s Office. But I do hope, one day, to use those skills that I got from Moot Court to argue either in the Second Circuit or the Supreme Court.”
La Bella: “After graduating, I’ll be joining Katten Muchin Rosenman, where I’ll be in the litigation practice group. While I know I won’t be seeing a courtroom for quite a while, I hope that the skills that I’ve developed through mock trial will serve me in the broader litigation process. For example, while reviewing documents, I’ll be equipped to consider how that information might come out at trial, I’ll have an understanding of possible objections that might come up during motion practice, and, hopefully, I’ll be a better and more thoughtful attorney.”