Young team defeats veteran powerhouses in legal advocacy tournament
The Belmont University College of Law Mock Trial Team was just crowned second in the United States at the finals for the American Association for Justice National Student Trial Advocacy Competition this past weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. Belmont advanced to the national tournament after winning first place regionally, securing the regional trophy for the third time in four years. The American Association for Justice (AAJ) seeks to inspire excellence in trial advocacy through training and education for both law students and practicing attorneys. The annual nationwide mock trial competition provides opportunity for law students to develop and practice their trial advocacy skills before distinguished members of the bar and bench.
Belmont Professor of Law Amy L. Moore oversees the Belmont mock trial team as the director of the Board of Advocates for Belmont Law. She said, “After just five years of competition in total, this mock trial program has proven itself to be a national powerhouse. Of the five years that we have competed in the American Association for Justice tournament, we have gone to the regional finals four times and won the region three times, proving that we belong among the best in the nation. I could not be more proud of our students or our coaches.”
For the competition every school has a four-person team with two people serving as attorneys for the plaintiff and two serving as defense attorneys. During a round, the team members who aren’t competing play the roles of witnesses for their teammates. This year’s competition centered on a fictional premises liability case, one in which the owner of a business was being sued because someone was injured on the property.
Belmont’s mock trial team included current third year law student Kierstin Jodway and second year students Paul Fata, Marcerious Knox and Summer Melton, and the team was coached by both faculty and alumni over the past several months. The head coach of mock trial at Belmont University is Professor Andrew Caple-Shaw who helped start the program and continues to coach teams each year. At the national competition, Belmont had one of the toughest preliminary draws, facing and defeating three of the nation’s top teams in University of Akron, Loyola Marymount and Syracuse. They also eliminated University of Missouri-Kansas City and Chicago-Kent before falling to Wake Forest in a nail-biting final. The point margin of the loss was a mere four points on a scale of 180.
“Through mock trial, and with the help of my coach, Dayne Geyer, I was able to find my voice,” said Jodway, a Kingwood, Texas native who is interested in civil rights and employment litigation. “There are so many people who understandably don’t know how to navigate the complex legal system so that they can obtain the Justice they deserve. Mock trial has taught me how to use my voice to speak up for those people.”
Fata, who hopes to practice in the field of criminal prosecution, noted, “Mock trial has given me a chance to make some great lifelong friends, and it’s given me courtroom experience that would otherwise have taken years to gain in practice… I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities Belmont Law has provided me. I have excelled in my externships with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Nashville District Attorney’s Office because of the exceptional training I’ve received at Belmont. Belmont Law professors do an incredible job of ensuring that Belmont students understand the complexities of legal theory, while also having the practical skills they need to succeed in day-to-day practice.”
Nashville native Knox, who is also focusing on criminal law, added, “We competed against the best teams in the nation and came in second out of hundreds of teams that competed in this tournament. That confirmed for me that I had the talent necessary to be a zealous advocate and made me more passionate about becoming a trial advocate after I graduate. Professionally, since this competition simulates real trials, it allowed me to gain more experience in the courtroom, so when I step out into the real world I will be more than ready to try cases on my own.”
Other regional winners that the Belmont team ultimately outranked in this national competition included Harvard University, Chicago-Kent College of Law, Baylor University, Stetson University, Fordham University, University of California Davis, Tulane University and the University of Maryland. At the regional level, the Belmont team edged out a number of strong competitors as well including Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and University of Tennessee.