For the second year in a row, members of the Trial Team gathered in the Dean’s Suite to drink champagne and bask in the school’s rising reputation as a star in the firmament of mock trial competitions.
Between sips of bubbly, the team members showed off the trophies they’d earned at two competitions in October.
Racquel Hubbs and Josef Mensah won the Judge Paul Joseph Kelly Jr. Invitational Trial Competition, hosted by Fordham Law School. In addition to winning the overall competition, Hubbs was named Best Advocate in the Final Round, while Mensah took the Best Advocate prize in the Preliminary Rounds.
Abbie Heller, Stephen Kulp, Jasleen Singh and Haley Welch were semi-finalists in the Peter James Johnson National Civil Rights Trial Competition, held at St. John’s University.
The students spend as much as 16 hours each week preparing for competitions, said Matt Leckman, a partner at Pogust, Braslow and Millrood who coached Heller, Kulp, Singh and Welch.
"We’re very blessed to have a very talented group," Leckman said. "It’s certainly happening very quickly for these guys."
In turn, Hubbs credited coaches like Royce W. Smith, an associate with Feldman Shepherd, for the team’s success.
"They helped us improve everything, from the pitch of our voice to the way we stand when cross-examining a witness," Hubbs said. "The entire success of our effort is attributable to the work they put in."
The coaches’ advice for preparing witnesses proved pivotal, Mensah said, as did the simple but critical reminder to hang on every word they say when opposing counsel questions them.
"You have to resist the temptation to sit down and relax because you got through it," Mensah said.
For his part, Smith said Hubbs and Mensah "owned the courtroom" and have "absolutely no quit in either of them."
Competing for a second year has enabled 3Ls on the team to move from recognizing their own styles to modifying them, Kulp said. For instance, Kulp knows that he can come across forcefully, so he has learned to soften his approach especially with vulnerable witnesses.
Competition provides valuable experience that translates into real-life practice, Welch said, noting that her supervisor in her Civil Litigation Clinic was pleasantly surprised to discover that she already knows how to authenticate an exhibit for trial.
The team’s success has turned heads among other law schools, said Professor Gwen Stern, who directs the Trial Advocacy Program. In the four years since the team began competing, Stern noted, the school has been invited to some of the nation’s most exclusive contests, including the Top Gun National Mock Trial Competition, in which just 16 individuals take part. Last year, team members won the Texas Young Lawyers Association Regional Competition advanced to the final four in the TYLA National Trial Team Competition and were finalists in the American Association of Justice Student Trial Advocacy Regional Competition.
"This confirms that we are a force to be reckoned with," Stern said. "Our program is second to none."