WACO, Texas -
On April 10th, the Baylor Law team of Sara Babineaux and Tori Cooper finished 3rd in the National Trial Competition (NTC) sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers (ACTL). This was Baylor Law’s second straight ‘final-four’ showing at this national tournament. Then, on Sunday, April 18th, Victoria Filoso, Maria Moore, Kristopher Ruiz, Catherine Helm, Caitlin Huettemann, and Daniela Vakulchik took home championship rings for their first-place win at the Trials and Tribulations mock trial tournament. Rounding out the month of April, the Baylor Law Team of Grace Bregard, Ali Sohani, Kinsey Lakey, and EJ Odre made it all the way to the championship round and finished second at the invitation-only Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition hosted by the Inter American University School of Law. Several Baylor Law students won individual awards at the tournament in Puerto Rico as well.
“We’ve had a really great year, so these last few tournaments have really just been a culmination of everything these students have worked for all year long,” stated Baylor Law’s Director of Advocacy Programs, Robert Little. “We advanced to elimination rounds at seven different tournaments this year, won two different tournaments, and finished 3rd at the National Trial Competition. It has just been a fantastic year on the mock trial front, and that is totally thanks to our students and coaches, who have put in hundreds of hours of work to keep our program at a championship level, and I can’t wait to see what our students will do next year,” Little added.
National Trial Competition, sponsored by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers
The NTC is one of the two major annual open mock trial tournaments. The tournament involves over 300 teams from around the country competing in 15 different regional competitions. After regionals, 30 teams move on to the national competition, which was held on April 8th-10th. Baylor Law won our region and advanced two teams to the national tournament: the team of Jessica Cox and Conner Sheets and the team of Sara Babineaux and Tori Cooper. At the national competition, Sara and Tori advanced to the elimination rounds and made it all the way to semifinals, losing to the eventual national champion UCLA on a very close 3-2 decision.
2021 was the seventh straight year where Baylor Law has qualified at least one team for the national tournament, the third straight national tournament where a Baylor Law team has advanced to the elimination rounds at the national tournament, and the second straight national tournament where a Baylor Law team made it to the final four.
The NTC national tournament is unique in that once teams advance from regionals, they receive a completely new problem for the national tournament. Teams have a little more than one month to prepare that new problem for competition, making it a very short turnaround compared to most other tournaments. Baylor Law teams practiced five or six days per week over that month-long period, including through spring break and the Easter holiday. The case file for the national tournament involved a vehicular accident between a tour bus designed and manufactured by the Defendant and an SUV. The Plaintiff was a passenger on the bus and was injured when her face and body were cut by glass. The Plaintiff sued the Defendant alleging design defects in that bus that caused her injuries.
In addition to the impressive showing at NTC, Jessica Cox was a member of the Baylor Law moot court team that made it to quarterfinals in the New York Bar Association’s National Moot Court Tournament in 2020, and during her 3L year she was on teams that finished in 3rd place at both the Summit Cup mock trial tournament hosted by Denver Law and the National Civil Trial Competition hosted by Loyola LA School of Law. Conner Sheets was a member of the moot court team that won their regional in the ABA’s National Appellate Advocacy Competition in 2020 and would have competed in nationals if those were not cancelled due to COVID. During his 3L year, Sheets was on the mock trial team that advanced to quarterfinals in the National Pretrial Competition hosted by Stetson Law School and the mock trial team that finished in 3rd place at the National Civil Trial Competition hosted by Loyola LA School of Law. Tori Cooper was also on our moot court team that made it to quarterfinals in the New York Bar Association’s National Moot Court Tournament in 2020, and during her 3L year she was on the team that finished in 3rd place at the National Civil Trial Competition hosted by Loyola LA School of Law. Sara Babineaux was a member of the moot court team that made it to quarterfinals of the Jeffrey G. Miller National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition in 2020. So, not only did these graduating students have tremendous success in one of the most prestigious law school mock trial competitions, but they also capped off very successful advocacy team careers at Baylor Law.
Trials and Tribulations
2021 was the inaugural competition for the ‘Trials and Tribulations Mock Trial Competition’ hosted by the University of South Carolina School of Law. This tournament is unique. The invitation-only tournament features 14 law schools from across the country, divided into two divisions. Those divisions played in a round robin format, meaning that each team had to compete against each of the other teams in their division. Then, after seven preliminary rounds, the winners of each division faced off in the final round for the championship. This is the only round robin mock trial tournament in the country.
In the championship round, the team from Baylor Law defeated the team from the University of Houston Law Center to win the championship.
The case was a defamation cause of action brought by one social media “influencer” against another “influencer” based on allegedly defamatory statements made by the Defendant on the popular social media app TikTok. The problem involved several social media posts on both Instagram and TikTok, a problem that is unique to our current age of social media.
This team featured two 3L students, Victoria Filoso & Maria Moore, who were competing in their second mock trial tournament for Baylor Law and four 2L students, Kristopher Ruiz, Daniela Vakulchik, Catherine Helm, and Caitlin Huettemann. Maria Moore was named ‘Outstanding Advocate’ for the preliminary rounds of the competition. The four 2Ls were competing on a mock trial team for Baylor Law for the first time. Kristopher Ruiz was named ‘Best Advocate’ in the championship round.
At the Trials and Tribulations competition, the Baylor Law team was coached by Cahal McColgan (JD ’16) and Mark Altman (JD ‘16), both of whom competed for Baylor Law while they were in school. Mark Altman finished as a quarterfinalist in the National Trial Competition in 2015.
Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition
The Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition (PRTAC) is hosted by the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico School of Law and its Trial Advocacy Association and sponsored by the Federal District Court for Puerto Rico, the First Circuit Court of Appeals, and the Federal Bankruptcy Court for Puerto Rico.
The 2021 PRTAC Competition involved a criminal problem, involving a politician that was allegedly accepting bribes in return for favors. The Baylor Law team competed in three preliminary rounds before making it to the final competition, losing a very close round to the eventual champion from Rutgers University School of Law.
Several Baylor Law Students won individual awards at this tournament, including:
The team was coached by Marcus Fifer, JD ’17, who competed for Baylor Law as a member of both moot court and mock trial teams and finished as a quarterfinalist at the National Trial Competition in 2017.
From The Competitors
NATIONAL TRIAL COMPETITION
“I had such an amazing experience competing in the National Trial Competition. I couldn’t have asked for a better group to spend months preparing with than Sara, Conner, Jessie, and our coach—Robert Little. I feel honored to have been able to compete alongside Sara, and I am so proud of what we were able to accomplish and thankful for the friendship we formed along the way. Thanks to Robert and his guidance this past year, we went into the competition confident and prepared to compete against the best advocates in the country. Because of Baylor Law and the advocacy program, I am leaving law school confident in my abilities and excited for my career as a Baylor Lawyer.”
"When Tori and I finished up our first scrimmage in preparation for regionals, I remember thinking, ‘Wow, we're toast.’ We made the strangest objections, forgot critical lines from the depositions, and just had no confidence. I left so embarrassed and discouraged. But over those next few weeks before regionals, we buckled down and put in the work. When we got to the competition, Robert said to us every morning, ‘stay calm, stay cool, stay confident.’ That became our mantra. We repeated it to ourselves before rounds, during breaks, and over the Zoom chat. Once we realized what Robert had been trying to tell us the whole time -- that we had the knowledge and skills, and that we just needed to believe in ourselves -- we started having fun. And we got to the semi-finals of Nationals."
“The lessons we learned from Robert, from each other, and from our teammates were invaluable. I'm so grateful for this experience and this team."
Robert Little, Team Coach
“We have one of the toughest regions in the country. So, just winning our region and getting two teams to the national tournament is already a huge accomplishment. But when you make it to the final four, especially when you do it in back-to-back years, it shows that Baylor Law remains one of the elite advocacy programs in the country, and it shows how amazingly talented our students are. Plus, this team was just a lot of fun to coach and they always had smiles on their faces, and that makes this whole process so much more fun!”
TRIALS & TRIBULATIONS
Maria Moore, Outstanding Advocate Preliminary Rounds
“I was only able to be recognized as an outstanding advocate because I had the best coaches and the best teammates anyone could ask for. Mark and Cahal, as well as all the Baylor Practice Court professors, have taught me so much and I'm so thankful to them for taking the time to pour into me and for making me a better advocate.”
Kristopher Ruiz, Best Advocate in Championship Round
“This past weekend, my team and I had the pleasure of representing Baylor Law at the University of South Carolina’s first ever Trials and Tribulations Mock Trial competition. We competed in seven rounds over four days and were fortunate enough to win the championship against a solid University of Houston team. The victory was a team effort, as all six of us worked diligently over the past few months in order to prepare for this competition. Bringing a win to Baylor was a great way to end the year, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the guidance and direction of our coaches, Mark and Cahal, as well as our graduating 3L’s, Maria and Victoria. It was an incredible experience, and I am grateful to have worked with such an excellent team.”
Mark Altman, Team Coach
“Ultimately this competition was won due to the hard work and dedication of the students. They worked hard day in and day out for a month and a half before the competition. Due to their preparedness and training, they were able to step up and litigate the case in front of them in each and every round. They could see the bigger picture of the case, so it didn’t matter what got thrown in front of them. I can’t wait to see where their careers take them, at Baylor Law and beyond.”
Cahal McColgan, Team Coach
“The students on this team put the work in at practice and on their own. That is a testament not only to the dedication these students have to being trial lawyers, but also the preparedness and confidence that comes from being a Baylor Lawyer. These students improved week-by-week, practice-by-practice, and I know they will only continue to improve as their careers advance.”
PUERTO RICO TRIAL ADVOCACY COMPETITION
Kinsey Lakey, Best Cross-Examination
“My co-counsel and I prepared for this competition while simultaneously going through the grueling practice court program. Because of this challenge, we did not have as much time to prepare for the competition as our opponents did, but we never once felt unprepared for a round. For that we thank our practice court professors and our coach, Marcus Fifer, who pushed us and demanded the best from us every day. Our team worked hard and went into the competition knowing the law and knowing how to be effective advocates because of their leadership. I am very proud and grateful to be at a part of Baylor Law where I am pushed to be the best mother, advocate and student that I can be.”
Ali Sohani, Perfect Scoring Attorney Award
"I am thankful that Baylor Law would allow me to represent the school in its initial appearance in the Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition. With the support and guidance from our spectacular coach, we were able to make it to the Finals and bring home 2nd place.
“I am honored to receive the Perfect Scoring Attorney Award in this Trial Advocacy Competition. I’d like to thank all the coaches, judges, and professors who have made me the Baylor Lawyer that I am soon to be. I am very thankful that I was able to work with such hard-working and dedicated team members.
“I truly feel that at Baylor Law, this is exactly what you’re prepared to do through the rigorous Practice Court program. Even when it comes to trial by Zoom, Baylor Law School is truly adapting day by day. During my tenure at Baylor Law, I can wholeheartedly say that I have made lifelong mentors here that truly care about me and my future. While graduation may be a bittersweet time, I am very excited and I look forward to the practice of law as a Baylor Lawyer."
Grace Bregard, Honorable Mention Best Opening Statement
“"I am immensely proud of my teammates, who showed up every day prepared and ready to work. Looking back, I will always treasure our conversations about evidentiary objections and effective storytelling. It means a lot that the competition's judges, comprised of practicing lawyers and trial judges, recognized the time and effort we put into presenting our case.”
"The high caliber of advocacy team coaches at Baylor Law makes a huge difference in students' lives and careers. Our coach for this competition, Marcus Fifer, met with us almost every day of the week, guided us through our case strategy, and cheered us on in every round. The energy coaches put into teaching their teams leads to student success in competitions and in the courtroom."
Marcus Fifer, Team Coach
"It was a pleasure to coach this team of bourgeoning advocates and soon to be Baylor Lawyers. True to form and the Baylor Law tradition, the students spent many nighttime and weekend hours mastering the facts and the law of this case in preparation for trial. They saw the fruits of their relentless preparation as they competed night after night and earned their place in the Championship Round. As Finalists in Baylor’s first appearance at the Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Tournament, this team has once again showcased the great, practical training they received at Baylor Law, and I have no doubt they will continue to zealously advocate for their clients in their careers."
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ABOUT BAYLOR LAW
Established in 1857, Baylor Law was one of the first law schools in Texas and one of the first west of the Mississippi River. Today, the school has more than 7,600 living alumni. It is accredited by the American Bar Association and is a member of the Association of American Law Schools. Baylor Law has a record of producing outstanding lawyers, many of whom decide upon a career in public service. Baylor Law boasts two governors, members or former members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, two former directors of the FBI, U.S. ambassadors, federal judges, justices of the Texas Supreme Court and members of the Texas Legislature among its notable alumni. In its law specialties rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor Law’s trial advocacy program as number two in the magazine’s 2021 edition of "America’s Best Graduate Schools." The National Jurist ranks Baylor Law as one of the "Best School for Practical Training," and one of the 'Best Law School Facilities' in the country. The Business Insider places Baylor Law among the top 50 law schools in the nation. Baylor Law received the 2015 American Bar Association Pro Bono Publico Award, making it only the third law school in the nation to be honored with the award since the award's inception in 1984. Learn more at baylor.edu/law
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions. Learn more at baylor.edu