October 5, 2010By Brittany Hardy
There's nothing like learning as you go. That has been the experience for Baylor Law students Jessica McCarty, Travis Plummer, Dustin Lucas and Victoria Weaver in preparing for a pretrial competition to take place in Tampa, Fla., Oct. 8-10. These four are the first Baylor Law School team to compete in Stetson National Pretrial Competition without first taking Practice Court.
It is in the Practice Court Program, especially in the Pre-trial Practice and Procedure course that students usually learn the necessary skills for this competition.
"We've learned it as we've practiced, but prior teams had that knowledge going into the competition," said Plummer, who is in his second year and has competed in three previous competitions. "Normally it's a 3L team going from Practice Court."
There are other factors that set this particular competition apart, though. One of these factors is the presence of witnesses.
"The presence of a witness is what really makes it different. It makes it more adversarial in nature. Usually it's just the team and judge, but the witness will add a whole other element off competition," said Lucas, who is in his second year and is competing in his first competition.
"This is a pretrial competition, so everything's different," said McCarty, who is in her second year and has competed in three previous competitions. "So, we're arguing emotion and backing it up with evidence, rather than arguing a case."
The general purpose of a pretrial is to clarify facts and resolve evidence prior to the trial.
"A week ago we submitted briefs; that's technically the first part of the competition," Lucas said. Due to the preparatory nature of pretrial competitions, "...there's more experience for the brief writers."
As a result of this competition's design to catch issues before they actually occur, the legal facts and evidence written into the briefs are integral pieces of the competition.
In pretrial, the team will present the facts and evidence, while questioning witnesses and aiming to catch problems that might arise before the trial takes place. It is in pre-trial that the strategy is formulated. For this particular competition, the team is working with an employment discrimination problem. The pre-trial will be conducted with the goal of determining whether a defense exists that can reduce potential damages. In the final step of the competition, the team will participate in a hearing and present a final oral argument.
"The first hour [of the competition] is a purely legal argument for the bench," Plummer said, "The remaining two hours for each round are introduction of evidence, direct and cross [examination] of witnesses and the closing argument. This is the most unique competition, because it combines both moot court and mock trial."
Professor Jim Underwood and Career Services Director Mike Berry are the coaches for this team.
"They both have brought a lot of trial experience. We came into this not knowing anything about direct and cross [examination] and they've made it extremely easy for us to pick up those skills," McCarty said.
The team certainly seems eager to begin competition.
"I'm definitely watching "300" on the plane to get ready," Lucas said.