It was Baylor Law vs. Baylor Law in the finals of the American Association for Justice regional Student Advocacy Competition, and when it was over, the team of Ben Yelverton, Akilah Craig, George Cowden and Justin Fowles prevailed, but just barely, over the team of Michael Bristow, Leah Maxwell, Stephen Netherton and Blayne Thompson. The winning team will advance to the AAJ national competition on March 22-25 in Las Vegas. The Baylor Law teams are coached by Prof. Jim Wren, Kathy Serr and David Deaconson with David Schlottman serving as evidence coach.
"It is a shame that only one team can go to nationals. Three members of the runner-up team have not yet had Practice Court and only one has ever competed on a mock trial team before, but they took the fight to Yelverton et al and were edged out on a split decision," Wren said.
A total of 16 teams took part in the regional competition. During the tournament, teams tried a fictional civil case regarding a topic much in the news. Chase v. Steelton Pit Bull Hockey Club Inc. focused on a semiprofessional hockey player alleging negligence against his team for not diagnosing him with a concussion during a game, which caused him permanent harm when he suffered a second concussion. The hockey club alleged the player was negligent for not revealing his symptoms.
Wren gives much of the credit for the win to a group of alumni who worked with the students on the case. The teams tried the case in Austin and Tyler in front of experienced trial lawyers, but a number of alumni traveled to Waco to assist the teams.
"There is no way we could have the success we did without such active involvement from our trial-veteran alumni. Their willingness to give up Saturdays and evenings to critique these students made a huge difference in their learning curve. We may have had a lot of rookies, but they were prepared for the pressure, and demonstrated it over the last four days. Our alumni are our difference-makers," Wren said.
The coaches also acknowledged the help provided by the redshirt team (practice squad) of Michael Roberts, Stephanie Paulissen, Laurianne Balkum, Kala Flittner, Kathryn Childress and Alice Warburton. These students practiced and traveled with the competing teams.
The AAJ regional competition was the sixth advocacy competition won in 2012 by a Baylor Law team. Two Baylor Law teams have qualified for the National Trial Competition after winning the regional competition; a team from Baylor Law won the ABA Moot Court Regional Competition; a team won the Elliott Cup; a team from Baylor Law won the National Security Moot Court Competition at George Washington University's School of Law; and Baylor Law captured the Transactional Law Meet Midwest Regional. Baylor Law advocacy teams are underwritten through the generosity of the M.D. Anderson Foundation.