By Mallory Hisler
Baylor Law School beat out Baylor Law School in a recent American Association for Justice Regional Student Trial Advocacy Competition. The law school sent two teams to the regional competition last Thursday to Sunday in Dallas, where they both knocked out 14 other teams to make it to the final round and ended up competing against each other for the title of regional champion.
The team consisting of Ben Yelverton, Akilah Craig, George Cowden and Justin Fowles were the winners of the competition and will advance to the association’s national competition later this month in Las Vegas.
The Baylor team that came in second was made up of law students Michael Bristow, Leah Maxwell, Stephen Netherton and Blayne Thompson.
Between the two four-member teams, only one student had previously competed in mock trial.
“This is definitely an unusual group,” Jim Wren, associate professor of law and one of the team’s faculty coaches, said.
Wren, who coached a national championship team in 2007 and a national semi-finalist team in 2009, said this made the groups’ success even more impressive. While many schools have seasons filled with other trial competitions that help prepare their competitors for events such as regionals, Baylor’s preparation is quite different, Wren said.
“We basically put together a team for a specific competition,” Wren said. “They don’t necessarily have experience before that.”
Kathy Serr, the law school’s advocacy program coordinator, said the low number of returning participants is not because of disinterest in the competition, but rather finding the time to participate.
“It’s not a problem of retention,” Serr said. “We don’t allow our first-year law students to compete in external competitions because we want to give them time to adjust from being an undergraduate to being a law student.”
Serr said that while some get the chance to participate in the latter part of their second year, many do not get to until their third and final year at law school, after they have gone through Baylor’s rigorous practice court.
In order to prepare the team for the mock trial competitions, the coaches have Baylor Law School alumni help out.
“To prepare for the competitions, they have been put in front of Baylor trial lawyer [alumni] to help critique them,” he said. “We have taken them to the federal court in Tyler and down to Austin.”
The mock trials usually deal with a specific type of case.
“AAJ’s mock trial cases are always civil cases and tend to deal with products liability, personal injury or medical malpractice/negligence issues,” the American Association for Justice website states.
Mock trials are generally thought of as a practical way to prepare law students for trial law.
Teams will be judged on their skills in case preparation, opening statements, use of facts, the examination of lay and expert witnesses and closing arguments.
The team that wins the national competition, held March 22-25, will receive an all-inclusive trip to the American Association for Justice annual convention in Chicago.
Each of the members will also get a $2,000 scholarship, courtesy of the Melvin M. Belli Society.
This is the second competition win for Baylor Law School mock trial teams this year. Late last month, two teams — including Chaille Graft Walraven, Joel Towner, Mark Walraven and Steven Lopez — competed in the national trial competition, where they won all 10 trials they participated in and advanced to finals.
The law school’s moot court teams have also enjoyed success at competitions this year.
In February, one team won the National Security Law Moot Court Competition and a second team advanced to the semi-finals, a third team garnered a win at the Elliot Cup and a fourth team won the American Bar Association Moot Court Regional Competition.
Baylor Law also won the Transactional Law Meet Midwest Regional February in its first time participating at the competition.