I was delighted to learn last week that Caroline Power, who graduated in May, had won Baylor Law’s prestigious Top Gun Mock Trial Competition. It was a wonderful conclusion to Caroline’s amazing run as a trial advocacy student, and an even better beginning to her life as a trial lawyer. We at her alma mater are immensely proud of Caroline, excited for her future, and not at all surprised.
For those unfamiliar with Top Gun, it is an elite invitational competition in which advocates from the top programs in the country have just 24 hours to learn the case file and prepare their arguments, after which they argue their cases solo, rather than in the traditional team format. The pressure is intense and the stakes are high. Only one person a year earns the right to call herself a Top Gun.
This year’s contestants argued a case regarding copyright law in which a publisher was accused of encouraging a novice writer to take elements from an established writer’s series of children’s books. To win, Caroline had to review depositions, records, and photographs before the case, work with new pieces of evidence as the tournament progressed, and argue in front of a jury of distinguished trial lawyers and judges. In the final round of competition, Caroline argued before presiding Judge Leonard E. Davis, Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. Judge Davis had high praise for Caroline, describing her as talented, fluid, articulate, and persuasive. I couldn’t agree more, and in fact would add that Caroline is also incredibly hard-working, focused, and highly disciplined – all traits that contributed to her success as a member of the Temple Law National Trial Team and will most certainly serve her well as a trial lawyer.
Caroline’s Top Gun triumph, coming as it does at this particular moment, has been a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the legacy of Eddie Ohlbaum, who created the program and whose passing this spring has been a loss for the school and for each of us who treasured his wisdom and friendship. In particular, it has given me a reason to reflect on why trial advocacy is such a core element of our curriculum and to reaffirm our institutional commitment to it.
Becoming a trial lawyer isn’t for everyone. That said, I believe that coursework in trial advocacy is. Why? Three reasons: Preparation, confidence, and agility. No other course in legal education develops these three highly desirable – and transferable – traits in young lawyers as well as the classes they take in trial advocacy.
Preparation: Trial Advocacy teaches students to synthesize a large amount of complex information, organize it into arguments that will be persuasive to their specific audience, and articulate it with passion and authenticity. That audience may be a judge or jury, but could just as easily be an arbitration panel, corporate board, negotiating partner, or policy-maker. Some people are gifted orators and can be decently effective extemporaneously. But they will never be as great as if they’d prepared. The more prepared the lawyer is, the more effective she will be in representing her client well, no matter what the forum may be. Trial Ad teaches preparation.
Confidence: Trial Advocacy pushes students out of their comfort zone and challenges them to do things they didn’t know they could. It is one of the great opportunities they have in the course of their legal education to layer skill and individuality on top of knowledge. The best advocate understands that he or she – uniquely – determines the shape and contours of the case presented. This artistry inevitably discloses something of the lawyer, and involves risk. So, at Temple, our students will take risks to complete the course. Learning that they can stand up in front of their peers and professors and deliver an opening statement or cross examine a witness is instrumental to their development as young lawyers, and the confidence they develop when they do what they thought was out of reach inevitably carries over into the rest of their work.
Agility: Trial Advocacy requires students to think on the fly, drawing on their thorough understanding of the facts and how they relate to one another to quickly absorb new developments and make the necessary adjustments. This ability to respond quickly and confidently under pressure is something that Temple’s trial advocacy faculty works to develop in every student, regardless of whether they are members of the National Trial Team or reluctantly enrolled in Introduction to Trial Advocacy despite a distinct aversion to public speaking.
What these three Trial Advocacy gifts really boil down to is this: students who take the risks and the opportunities offered by the program, especially here at Temple, come out of it having discovered their own voices and with the tools to use those voices powerfully and passionately in the practice setting of their choice. They have a “can do” confidence that they can make a difference, and so they do. I’m proud of Temple Law’s leadership in this field and of the many members of the legal community whose participation contributes to our success.