Teams from Baylor Law School captured both first and second place at the National Trial Competition finals on March 24 in Austin. In the final round, the team of Mark Walraven and Steven Lopez defeated Joel Towner and Chaille Graft Walraven. Mark Walraven also was named Best Advocate. The teams were coached by adjunct professor Robert Little, who also works for the Waco law firm Naman, Howell, Smith & Lee, PLLC.
"These young trial lawyers are magnificent," said Gerald Powell, the Abner V. McCall Professor of Evidence and director of Baylor Law's renowned Practice Court Program. "They are smart, talented and hard-working. And they are really good people too; they are the kind of professionals that any client would be proud to have. I am so proud of them. And their coach, Robert Little, is hands-down the best mock trial coach in America."
A Baylor Law alumnus, Little was a member of the 2005 American Trial Lawyers Association National Championship team. Additionally, he coached the Baylor Law team that won NTC in 2009.
"Taking first and second place is rare and incredibly impressive. I have never heard of it happening," Little said.
(Actually it has happened before...but long ago. A Baylor v. Baylor face-off in the finals of the NTC mock trial competition unfolded once before - the team of Ken Patterson, Gil Gilliam, Joe Johnson, Tim Herron and Jim Wren also closed out nationals in the early 1980s.)
In addition to the four team members, Holly Raines served as Evidence Coach while Whitney Keltch and Paul Green were members of the practice squad.
"Holly Raines did an excellent job as the evidence coach for the team," Little said. "She proved herself to be an excellent researcher, and really acted as an assistant coach more than an evidence coach in preparing the team for evidence arguments. We were, without question, the most well prepared team on evidence issues at the tournament, and the credit for that, in large part, goes to Holly.
"The work that Paul Green and Whitney Keltch did in practice was immensely helpful," Little continued. "The witnesses at nationals are tough, but by the time we got there we had already practiced with the toughest witnesses you could possibly find. This was a real team effort, and they were a major part of that team."
The NTC is the largest and oldest of the mock trial competitions. Approximately 300 teams from across the United States competed at the regional and national level. At the national finals, the 28 regional winners were judged primarily by Fellows of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Both Baylor Law teams qualified for the tournament by winning the regional competition in February.
Competitors at the competition tried a fictional premises liability case in which a roofer falls through a skylight at a grocery store and is killed. His widow has sued the grocery store.
"What is challenging about the National Trial Competition is that in the post-break rounds (quarterfinals, semifinals and finals) the organizers add a twist to the problem. You have about an hour to eat lunch and incorporate the new facts/witnesses into your game plan. It was very stressful but an advantage for Baylor lawyers who are taught from day one to think on their feet and to be in the moment," Lopez said.
Little said other coaches were quick to praise the current Baylor Law teams, especially their ability to appear so relaxed in the courtroom.
"One coach asked me how we managed to find four law students who are so comfortable in the courtroom," he said. "But that is what we teach them to do from the moment they enter Baylor Law School. They weren't putting on a play or acting from a script; they were treating the competition like their job, and they were there to win a law suit."
Lopez gave credit to Little for preparing the team so well for the competition.
"Robert is the best at looking at a mock trial problem and breaking it down to the core issues. With his guidance we were able to go into every round knowing that we had a winning theory of the case. He teaches his students to be lawyers, not actors," he said.
So did the teams care on who actually took first? Not according to Mark Walraven and Little.
"We were really happy, and we didn't really want to know which team won. The round was so close that the judges told me that it could have gone the other way on any given day," Walraven said.
Little agreed. "Baylor won, and it didn't really matter who finished first and who finished second," he said.
"This is such a remarkable accomplishment that brings great honor to Baylor Law School," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben. "I am so thankful to each of our coaches and advocates. Throughout the entire trek to this national championship, they have invested their skills and gifts, over untold hours, to not only win, but dominate."
The win at the NTC highlights what has been a banner year so far for Baylor Law advocacy teams. In 2012, Baylor Law teams won regional competitions at the ABA Moot Court competition, AAJ mock trial competition, the NTC and the Transactional Law Meet. Baylor Law teams also won the Elliott Cup and the National Security Moot Court Competition at George Washington University's School of Law. Baylor Law teams also were semifinalists at the NYU Immigration Law Moot Court Competition, the Wisconsin Constitutional Law Moot Court Competition and the Child Welfare & Adoption Law Moot Court Competition. Baylor Law advocacy teams are underwritten through the generosity of the M.D. Anderson Foundation.