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Top Gun XI Trial Advocacy Competition | A Q&A with Eric Love LAW ’20 and Lauren Doig LAW ’21

Eric Love LAW '20 and Lauren Doig LAW '21 | Screencap from Baylor Law's YouTube Channel

The below is excerpted from conversation held about a week after Eric Love competed in the Top Gun XI Trial Advocacy competition. Eric was supported by his second chair, Lauren Doig, and his coach, Professor Sara Jacobson. Top Gun is a unique tournament, giving only 24 hours to prepare before a lone advocate tries both the plaintiff and defense side of the case. This competition was also unique because it was the first full mock trial tournament conducted wholly online. It was conducted one week after George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis as a weekend of protests and unrest swept the country.

Eric and Lauren won the professionalism award for the tournament for the issues they faced during the final round. Eric, Lauren, and Professor Jacobson were working out of a rented apartment suite on the 7th floor at 15th and Chestnut. Eric’s final round began about 4pm. He and Lauren were unaware that blocks away, civil protest had turned to civil unrest at Philadelphia’s City Hall and that looting, small fires, and crowds of people were all up and down the block where they were, until the fire alarm went off in the middle of the round.

Professor Sara Jacobson: Eric, what did it mean to be able to compete in Top Gun this year after having been a second chair for it last year?

Eric Love LAW ’20: I thought it was exciting. Top Gun is the culmination of all your time doing mock trial really. So everything that you’ve learned, you get to show that one last time. You’re there preparing for 24 hours, but the competition requires a lot of demonstrating your own talent because you try the whole case as an individual. At most competitions you try the case together with a partner. Here you must show your own skills what you’ve learned. And it was exciting to be able to do that.

Sara Jacobson: Did it have any special meaning for you, given that your Spring competition was cancelled?

Eric Love: Yeah, I mean, definitely, because I wasn’t able to compete this Spring. You spend so much time prepping a file in all other competitions. The competition is the payoff for all the work you put in for weeks and hours and all the work that gets put in. To find out our Spring competition was cancelled, the day it was supposed to start, was a real punch in the gut, but it was great to have this opportunity to forget how sad I was over that.

Sara Jacobson: Lauren, Would you talk a little bit about the Top Gun format and what it was like to be the second chair?

Lauren Doig LAW ’21: Sure. The format of it is that you have 24 hours to read the case and prepare four witness statements and direct and cross examinations for both sides of the case. Basically there are 24 hours to prepare. It was pretty exciting to be second chair. I don’t think I realized how much work was involved until I was there. Eric had to prepare more than he would have to prepare for a normal competition. For a normal competition, he would have at least several weeks if not months to prepare for it. Our case file was the same size, essentially. I was amazed and impressed that he had basically twice as much work to do in only 24 hours.

Sara Jacobson: Lauren, can you talk a little bit more about the facts of this case that that you prepared and helped Eric prepare and try?

Lauren Doig: An 18-year-old soccer player, who had an underlying heart condition and was on cocaine, died at soccer practice. The day of practice, it happened to be over 100 degrees in Waco, Texas, and the coach made this player run and bear crawl in the heat. The coach did not notice the player’s signs of heat exhaustion, and didn’t offer the player a break or water at any point. The coach then had other teammates slide tackle the player 15 times until the player finally collapsed and died. The plaintiff was arguing it was the coach’s fault and that coach should have seen signs of heat stroke or heat exhaustion. The defense is saying no, it was the player’s underlying heart condition and cocaine that caused the player’s death.

Sara Jacobson: Eric, did you feel like one side of the case was stronger than the other or the theory of one side spoke to you more than the other?

Eric Love: I think one was more of a compelling story as a person with a conscience and a heart. And I think the other one was more compelling in terms of a cold logical legal argument. On the plaintiff side, you really got to use your emotion as human, and on the defense, there was a lot more storytelling narrative. I think my style is more conversational which helps with the storytelling narrative.

Sara Jacobson: What do you think, Lauren?

Lauren Doig: I thought he did both sides really well, but I actually really liked how Eric did the defense,  because even though it was less emotional and it was more of just a cold, as Eric said, reasonable logical story. He’s a very warm person so it never felt like he was condemning the decedent. It just felt like he was being very reasonable but still sympathetic- but these are the facts. The player died and that it happened this way, but looking at the facts, the coach isn’t liable for this.

Sara Jacobson: Top Gun at Baylor was the first time we’ve had a full online trial competition, the whole trial, soup to nuts, how was that different?

Eric Love: I felt it would be a bigger deal going in then it turned out to be. I don’t know, but in my mind trials are about eye contact and body movement. I was afraid that that wasn’t going to come through on a camera right. I couldn’t even really look at the people or see the judges who were evaluating me. I couldn’t see their facial expression when I said things- whether they were buying it and nodding their heads going along with me or whether they were like cringing and rolling their eyes at my arguments. In a trial when you realize that argument is not working, you can see it visible in some people’s face as you start making that argument, and you readjust the way you’re doing it. Without seeing them, I couldn’t do that. I thrive on the feedback I get from people. It’s very important to me to get feedback, good or bad. That made it challenging for me.

Sara Jacobson: Lauren what was like doing the technology piece of it with Top Gun. The second chair doesn’t doesn’t do a lot of witnessing. Mostly you’re there to support and do tech support by displaying documents on screen as needed. But you couldn’t even be in the same room as Eric for the competition rules.

Lauren Doig: It was hard to watch him and at the same time get my screen ready and know exactly when to be showing things since I had to be in a different room. It was really hard when you’re just hoping that you’re doing the thing you need to at the right time, but not really knowing. We weren’t able to practice in advance or anything like that.

Eric Love: I worried because the judges aren’t being watched. They’re at home. The video of them is off, and they’re muted. The judges are just supposed to watch and listen. But there’s no one monitoring that. I felt like I needed to do something extra like with terms of visuals, and be more elaborate. We knew we needed to do something more visual. Our trial technology worked well because Lauren had me tell her prior to the rounds where I needed exhibits shown. It made me actually remember to plan and write this note down so I remember to show that.

Sara Jacobson: Eric your instincts were right. We haven’t seen the results yet, but Baylor surveyed the Top Gun judges about their attention span and how long it took them before they stopped paying attention. It was very, very short, like just a few minutes. After that they were not paying attention, so we will need to incorporate many more visuals going forward in online trials or future online competitions.

Sara Jacobson: I’ll ask each of you and Eric, I’ll start with you. What advice for you would, would you have for the next generation of temple trial team folks who may compete online?

Eric Love: All of the things that we already know about a jury- have a great start, have a great ending, keep it as like brief- all of that advice is just more true in this kind of format. Make big points and make them quick, no superfluous language. Be efficient, be brief.

Lauren Doig: Well, I did my ITAP final trial online. I thought it was going be so different because you can have all your notes there. But then once you start doing it, it felt the exact same. I felt the same adrenaline rush. You still have to think on your feet, even if you can have a few notes in front of you, that you normally couldn’t have. You still only have seconds to make an objection or to come up with a redirect or things like that. So I do feel like it’s very similar to a normal trial. It’s not the same, obviously, but I would just caution people not to be disappointed. I did feel like it was very similar, and I was still able to use the same advocacy skills that I would use in a normal trial.

Sara Jacobson: Let’s talk about your last round on Saturday. The rounds started I think around, call it four o’clock, maybe five. Each of you as that round began- what was your mindset going in?

Eric Love: Really, really good. I knew this competitor. I competed against her before. And I felt prepared for this side. I was trying the side we thought I was stronger at, the defense side. I felt really, really good. I thought I looked good in my blue suit. I felt great. I felt I started a very strong. I had good focus and was ready to go.

Sara Jacobson: How about you, Lauren?

Lauren Doig: I felt really good, too, similar to what Eric said. Eric was getting better and better each round, and I felt very confident going into this one. I felt good about it.

Sara Jacobson: As the round started did either of you know that there were protests three blocks away at City Hall?

Eric Love: I did not know that was happening. I heard like helicopters and sirens, you know, at some point, but I just you know chopped it up to city noise and wasn’t really focused on it.

Sara Jacobson: How about you Lauren?

Lauren Doig: I had heard that there were going to be protests. That day I heard the helicopters, but I didn’t know the extent of what was happening. I thought it was precautionary.

Sara Jacobson: I was watching your round on YouTube because I wasn’t permitted to be in the room but was allowed to watch the YouTube feed. I was also watching the live feeds from the news helicopters. Three blocks away things went from peaceful protest to protesters trying to break through the lines of police at City Hall, to fires that began. Unrest spread from there. Did you at any point have any sense that there was activity on the block where we were?

Eric Love: I remember hearing a fire alarm in another building and thinking that it wasn’t loud enough to be heard online by the judges. And then once the fire alarms were going off in our building, I still thought, oh, I guess they’re doing fire drills. I really did not think it was anything serious. I was just like, I remember laughing and joking with the judges, like, how crazy is like this could happen? A fire alarm – I’m going to go see what’s going on. Then as I was going to the hallway, I heard Sara come out and say, “Don’t go anywhere.” And then I was like, oh, okay, she’s serious, very competitive. She doesn’t want me off the screen. And then quickly soon after that you told us what was going on. I looked out the window and saw some things. But no, I really had no idea.

Sara Jacobson: Lauren, how about you?

Lauren Doig: Well, I heard the fire alarm and I first thought like Eric was that it was a drill, and I kind of just sat there, like, just waiting while he was joking with the judge. But then I started to smell smoke, and I didn’t have any shoes on. I start tying up my sneakers to head out and I was looking around like, “Okay, let me grab my papers in case we have to do this somewhere else.”

Sara Jacobson: If there was an actual fire in the building, you wanted to have your notes?

Lauren Doig: Yeah, and then Sara came out. We were like, oh, don’t leave, but I could smell the smoke.

Eric Love: Lauren opening up the door to the hallway and being I really smell smoke. I really did think the building was on fire. You told us there were protests. I was like, “Okay, well they lit the building on fire, Sara, so we need to get out.”

Sara Jacobson: When the fire alarm went off, I stopped you guys from leaving and quickly called Baylor to tell the tournament what had happened. I had already alerted them that there were protests turning unruly in the area. Then I went downstairs to check to make sure that there wasn’t an actual fire in the building.

Eric Love: By that point, I’m looking out the window and seeing people running down the street, people in the bank. I saw the broken windows at the bank and people literally running down the street with all kinds of things.

Sara Jacobson: I walked back up and saw that the third floor of our building was completely under construction. Someone had propped a window open on the third floor, probably to let construction dust out. Smoke from fires outside came in that way, setting of the alarm. That’s why it smelled like smoke. Then I came up and told you more. I was trying to tell you enough for you to understand that we were safe in the building, because it was the safest place for us to be at that point, but not to overly upset you.

Eric Love: It was definitely interesting- not to mention, this whole time I’m surrounded by like 100 lamps without lampshades on them because the room we were in got so dark at night. It had only one very sad fluorescent light on the other side of the room, so we surrounded me with unshaded lights so that the judges online could see me well. During the break in the trial when the alarm was still playing, I’m navigating the lamps as I’m walking around the living room, so that was also interesting. It was just an interesting little scene.

Sara Jacobson: And the fire alarms continue to go off, probably overall for like two or three hours. It went off because people couldn’t get into the building to turn off the alarm, and the fire department had other things to do with the real fires up and down the street.

Eric Love: I saw windows broken but did not have the idea of the extent of the damage that was going on outside. So mostly I was focused on the trial and thought it had been going very well but now I’m losing momentum because I’m not able to continue with the fire alarms blaring. The problem is on my side, and like the judges are going to get frustrated. They’re going to blame it on me because of that. A little irrational, but that’s what I was thinking. I wanted to get re-started. I was thinking about like how we could do get things moving. I was like, can I go in the other room? But there were alarms in every room going off. Then I thought maybe we can block up the sound and just go for it, which is what we ended up trying to do somewhat successfully.

Sara Jacobson: Would you talk a little bit about the efforts you guys made to block out the sound?

Lauren Doig: Yes, we were in a small apartment to begin with, so the four alarms in the suite sounded like there were four alarms in the one room that Eric was performing in. We tried to cover it. Well, I want to hold it up with the pillow, which was going to work, but Sara said no.

Sara Jacobson: You were not going to stand on a table and hold up a pillow to the alarm for the rest of the round.

Lauren Doig: But luckily, we had some duct tape. We tried to tape the pillow up, but that didn’t work. We also tried to use our Top Gun t-shirt to cover it, but that didn’t work either, so then we just used regular duct tape to cover it.

Sara Jacobson: But Eric, we didn’t get the sound completely off. We got it kind of muffled, right?

Eric Love: Yeah, so even after the round restarted after the break, the judges could still hear it. I could definitely still hear it. I won’t forget it what the alarm said when it sounded. It was like “There’s an emergency in the building. Do not use the elevators. Leave the building now.” It would say that, and then go like the sound of a blaring alarm and repeat that over and over. I’m thinking, this is the worst advice, because with the emergency outside the building we should not go outside. It was just a never-ending soundtrack of emergency and heart-racing sirens.
Despite the nightmare situation we were trapped in with nothing we could do, as the round resumed, I’m trying to pretend like I’m still happy-go-lucky, smiley, you know, my normal self. I think it was harder for me to hear them at that point then it was for me to be heard, because I was talking very loudly to accommodate to make sure I was heard, and I was getting close to the microphone. I think they could hear me over the fire alarm, but it was distracting for me to listen and try to get my head straight and think about what I was going to do next. I don’t know, I just tried to block it out.

Sara Jacobson: How was it for you, Lauren, when the round resumed?

Lauren Doig: Eric just kept going like it didn’t bother him. He was so calm and cool. He did great, and I think he should have gotten more credit for that. But the only problem was then the other person would start speaking and they had nice silence in the background when they are talking, so you can’t miss the contrast. Even though he said he was like frustrated when the alarm was going off, we just wanted to keep going. He acted like, oh, it was just a minor inconvenience. Let’s keep going.

Eric Love: It was just good surface acting, which is, I guess, an important skill as a trial attorney.

Sara Jacobson: We find out that night that we’re not advancing, although it looked close. The person you tried the case against, Simone Leighty from Pacific McGeorge, went on to win the whole thing. Is there anything you want to say about her advocacy?

Eric Love: I love Simone. I’ve competed against her before, I think she’s a great competitor. She really rolled with the punches too that night. We were texting throughout the competition. She checked in to make sure we were safe.

Sara Jacobson: After the round we watched some of the news about the fires and the looting, and obviously stayed at the suite. The next morning you saw some of the aftermath as we headed home. When you saw what had been going on, either on the TV that night or the next morning as we left, what were your reactions?

Eric Love: I was heartbroken. I mean, I grew up in Philadelphia. I went to school in Center City. I worked after school in Center City. So for my whole life other than college, I lived here. Chestnut Street and Walnut Street were streets that I’ve always known, and so for me it was like someone broke into my home and trashed it. It broke my heart to see so much damage on a street I remember walking home from work on. I thought about how at Christmas time it’s all lit up and pretty, and to see graffiti everywhere and the broken windows of all the stores, it was just really sad, because it felt like aside from the mock trial, this place has been my home. I didn’t really appreciate how serious the damage was until I saw it with my own eyes.

Lauren Doig: Yeah, I was lost for words. I remember when we walked downstairs, Sara, you were trying to mentally prepare me for it, and I was like, yeah, ok, we saw it out the window. And then I came down, and it’s very sobering and sad, but you feel also the pain and anger of the people who were rioting. It’s a whole mix of emotions. We came down before anyone had really cleaned up. It was crazy to see. People weren’t really looting anymore, but you just saw all the stores broken into and graffiti everywhere, with charred clothing and items on the ground from the fires.

Sara Jacobson: Were you scared?

Eric Love: No, I wasn’t scared. I think, again, being from Philly I understood, you know, that there’s a lot of things that go on in cities. I’m used to large group of people expressing themselves in mass like that usually, but I have never seen so much pain and frustration. I wasn’t aware enough when it was going on to be afraid. And by the time I became aware enough, I felt this sadness of the aftermath of what I saw.

Lauren Doig: Yeah, I wasn’t really scared. I think we were really in the zone of the tournament until you told us to text our loved ones to tell them we’re ok. All of the sudden, I was like, oh, okay, but I was ready to keep going with the trial.

Eric Love: During a tournament you go into a bubble for the weekend and you forget about the outside world. I felt like that about the pandemic as well while we were there.

Sara Jacobson: How did you feel when you learned you won a special professionalism award, essentially for your grit and determination and for trying your case under difficult circumstances?

Eric Love: It feels good. I think it’s great for Temple. I’m glad that I was able to represent Temple in that way. In 10 years, it’s not going to be the Eric Love and Lauren Doig story. It’s going to be that team from Temple story, and I feel good to be able to have helped build our reputation.

Sara Jacobson: It will always be our story, though.

Eric Love: Well 100%, but Baylor’s going to forget who it tried the case. They’ll remember what school it was, though. It feels good to have been a part of that and give Temple some more street cred. But there was really nothing else to do. That’s just what we do. You don’t give up. You just go with it.

Lauren Doig: A lot of competitors could have made a lot of excuses or given up or broken down. And Eric really didn’t at all. He just kept his cool and just kept fighting through it, so I thought he deserved to be recognized. And like what Eric said, I think it’s a testament to how Temple advocates are trained to have grit, and that’s what happened that night. We were like, that’s fine, we’ll put duct tape on the wall, and we’ll put lamps around Eric. No big deal. We’re going to keep going.

Eric Love: Yeah, it was kind of fun.

Lauren Doig: Ditto.

Questions about this post? Drop us a line at lawcomm@temple.edu.