Baylor Mock Trial Team Crowned National Champions at Prestigious AAJ CompetitionApril 2, 2007
by Julie Carlson, senior staff writer, (254) 710-6681
In 2005, a team of Baylor Law students captured the American Trial Lawyers Association Student Trial Advocacy Competition and were declared the national champions. History repeated itself on Sunday, April 1, when the Baylor team of Danny Back, Josh Hedrick, Danny Stokes and James Williams were crowned the national champions at the American Association for Justice (formerly the ATLA) national finals in New Orleans.
As winners, the Baylor team, coaches Jim Wren and Kathy Serr and evidence coach Lauren Davis, who is a third-year law student, will receive free airfare, hotel accommodations and registration to the 2007 AAJ Convention, which will be held in Chicago July 14-18, at which time they will be honored.
"This team has accomplished a remarkable feat, but it's one that is a natural outgrowth of the superb quality of our advocacy program at Baylor Law School," said Baylor Law Dean Brad Toben. "We have a history and tradition of excellence in advocacy, and this national championship is yet further evidence of the quality of a stellar, and dominant, program."
"Our Practice Court program and our Baylor Law School alumni know what it takes to win, and that's what we teach to our students," Wren said. "Not only has this Baylor team been grilled during six months of Practice Court, it has also been grilled for another two months by top Baylor trial lawyers across the state of Texas. Our team members didn't see anything in national competition that they hadn't already been confronted with in their training."
The AAJ competition focuses on civil cases and tends to deal with products liability, personal injury or medical malpractice/negligence issues. Teams are judged on their skills in case preparation, opening statements, use of facts, the examination of lay and expert witnesses and closing arguments.
This year's case dealt with expert testimony regarding a truck/auto collision. Although the case remained the same throughout the competition, the participating teams constantly switched between representing the plaintiffs or defense during the tournament.
"We received very telling comments from the judges in that when we represented the plaintiffs, the judges commented the case was very plaintiff oriented, and when we were on defense, the judge commented that the plaintiffs didn't have much to work with. It is the ultimate compliment to make something look easy," Wren said.
The Student Trial Advocacy competition began March 1 with 14 regional competitions between 224 teams. The teams must compete in three qualifying rounds with teams with the best won/loss records moving into quarterfinal rounds. The Baylor team participated in the Boston regional and won, by unanimous ballots, all their trials, including a victory over Suffolk Law School in the finals.
"The coach from the team we beat in the Boston finals said he was most amazed by the apparent ease and comfort of the Baylor competitors in the courtroom, regardless of what was thrown at them, and said 'It's like they've tried this case a hundred times,'" Wren said. "I think that's a direct reflection on the willingness of our Baylor trial lawyers to invest themselves in these students. There's no way our students could have meaningfully tried this case so many times and had so much thrown at them without the hours put in by our alumni."
Baylor Law alumni who served as practice judges for the team included Wacoans Rod Squires, Derek Gilliland, Jerry Campbell, John Stephens, Mike Scanes and Noley Bice; Dallas residents Jack Ayres, Chris Ayres, Abby Mathews, Fred Huntsman and Dudley Jordan; Austin residents Steve McConnico, Mary Dietz, Jim Ewbank, George Slade and Julie Springer; Mike Simpson from Bridgeport; John David Hart from Fort Worth; and Craig Lewis from Houston.
Additionally, Federal Judge Ed Kinkeade of Dallas presided over a practice trial in his courtroom, and Judge John Dietz of Austin loaned his courtroom for practice.
In the national tournament, Baylor defeated Tulane in the semifinals and Syracuse in the finals. The other semifinalist was a team from Temple University Law School. Throughout the entire tournament, the Baylor foursome never lost a case.
"The achievement of these students is remarkable," said Gerald Powell, director of the Baylor Practice Court program and The Abner V. McCall Professor of Evidence. "They went off to a distant venue, Boston, for their regional competition. There they competed against all of the northeastern law schools and conducted a 'clinic' on how to try cases - they won every trial and didn't lose a single judge's ballot. Then they went to New Orleans and beat all of the other regional winners. They have made us proud."