Members of the National Trial Team face real-world issues in intense mock trial competitions across the nation. As a student advocate on the team, you’ll stand out from other law school graduates – with more trial experience than many lawyers accumulate after years in the field.
Real-Life Issues Drawn from the Courts
Team members get a firm knowledge of the rules of trial procedure: conducting opening and closing arguments; direct and cross-examinations; and learning how rules of evidence can affect a case.
You’ll get the skills to develop a theory of a case: researching and deciding what the most important facts are, and then arraying the evidence in a way that supports those facts to focus a jury. Most importantly, you’ll learn how to conduct yourself in a courtroom, and present the facts – relating to a jury as a person, instead of a lawyer.
“They have every skill a trial lawyer should have, “ says Professor Timothy Wilton, National Trial Team director, “after they leave this program, they can try a case better than most trial lawyers in the District Courts of Massachusetts.”
After graduation, team members have gone on to become successful DA’s, trial lawyers and judges. One alumnus now in the spotlight is Hank Brennan, a former prosecutor in Essex and Suffolk counties, who served as co-lead counsel in the South Boston murder trial of reputed mobster James "Whitey" Bulger.
Dominant Competition Record
Over the years, the team has compiled an impressive winning record, dominating regional competitions. They’ve been 12-time New England regional champions in the American Association of Justice Student Advocacy Competition, and 13-time regional champs in the National Trial Competition – a total of 25 regional championships in the last 29 years.
And, in the last 24 years, the team has been invited 21 times to the prestigious NITA Tournament of Champions, open only to the best 16 competition teams in the country. It’s an almost spotless record as one of the top 16 trial competition schools in the nation.
The team is made up of 24-32 students; 16 students form 4 competition teams of 2 advocates and 2 witnesses, with the remainder of the students serving on practice squads. Normally a student will compete with the team for 2 years.
Tryouts for the team, open to any Suffolk Law student, are highly competitive. In the fall an average of 40 candidates vie for a maximum of 16 openings.
Students hoping to make the team prepare a five-minute closing argument from a trial record, and then answer questions from coaches and team members during a 20-minute interview.
Competition takes place in actual courtrooms across the country before a panel of 3 judges; one presiding and two scoring. The panel, usually practicing trial attorneys, and sometimes sitting judges, use a point system to score student advocates on different aspects of their performance.
You’ll learn to think on your feet during intense competition, arguing both sides of a case as prosecutor and defense through multiple rounds up through the regionals onto national competitions.
And, there’s the occasional curveball that mimics real-life situations and tests what you’ve learned in practice. During National Trial Competitions, instead of your team’s witnesses, the competition host supplies them all. Each team gets 2 witnesses they meet 15 minutes before the trial begins. During each new round the two advocates get another set of witnesses. It’s up to you to decide how to use them.
Student advocates travel to cities across the US; including New York, Houston, Santa Monica, Boston, and to San Juan, Puerto Rico. It’s a chance to experience different legal perspectives – a lawyer or judge in Santa Monica or Houston may be very different from one in the Northeast.
Post-Competition Feedback and Networking
After regional competitions, team members get to meet and network with the judges during post-competition receptions. It’s an invaluable opportunity to get one-on-one feedback and critiques on your performance from litigators that defend and prosecute cases daily.
A 'Trial Advocacy University'
On the team, you’ll get a crash course in trial advocacy, working alongside alumni coaches who are practicing trial lawyers. Your experience will run the gamut of trial procedure: analyzing trial records, developing witness examinations and formulating opening and closing arguments.
Maintaining a winning record requires commitment; the team meets every Sunday, with breaks during Christmas, Easter, and New Year. During the week, team members meet with their competition partners, or witnesses, and also meet with their coaches to refine their case.
The coaching staff is made up of previous team members, now successful litigators, who give back by donating time and using their real life experience to help the team. 4 principal coaches and 8 assistants along with director Wilton create a ratio of 13 coaches for 32 students.