Crestencia Pihlaja, a 2L at The University of New Mexico School of Law, earned second place for Best Oral Argument at the Hispanic National Bar Association moot court competition in Seattle in March.

Damon Nieto and Crestencia Pihlaja

Pihlaja competed against more than 60 other law students from law schools across the country. She said she was honored and surprised to earn the award and was grateful to those who helped her and teammate Damon Nieto prep for the competition, including the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association, which paid for the law students’ travel expenses.

“I’d like to express my appreciation for the New Mexico Hispanic Bar Association and all our guest judges for their immense support,” Pihlaja said. “I am also extremely grateful for the support and teaching that my coaches and advisors, Kateri Garcia West and Ret. Justice Ed Chavez, provided for our team.”

Pihlaja and Nieto worked hard to prepare for the competition. In January, the pair drafted a 25-page appellate brief that was followed by several weeks of mooting before local Federal and appellate judges, practicing attorneys and Hispanic National Bar Association moot court alumni. 

“Each practice run helped me continually improve my argument; our guest judges provided excellent feedback which helped me shape and shift my outline and prepare for questions,” she said.

In addition to the moot court practice, Pihlaja and Nieto prepared arguments for the separate issues they would later argue at the competition, researched past court decisions and prepared oral argument outlines for both the petitioner and respondent parties.

Coming off the moot court win, Pihlaja said she is eager to continue her exploration of different practice areas and legal opportunities, though the competition piqued her interest in appellate law. She is also interested in further exploring civil litigation and practice.

Those who helped Pihlaja and Nieto prepare for their arguments at the Hispanic National Bar Association include: retired Chief Justice Ed Chavez, Judge David Urias, Judge James Browning, Judge Jennifer Rozzoni, Judge Miles Hanisee, Judge Jane Yohalem, Judge Zach Ives, Judge Michael Bustamante, retired Judge Linda Vanzi, retired Judge Rod Kennedy, Ed Ricco, Mary Torres, Mark Baker, Michelle Hernandez, Professor Laura Gomez, Denise Chanez, Patrick Coronel, Angelica Lopez, Tim Atler, Samantha Hults, Angelica Hall, Marco Santamaria, Larissa Lozano, Luis Leyva, and Celina Baca. Mary Torres, and Sarah Gorman.