Students prepare, thank coaches

“The University of Akron’s most confident and skillful law students will turn out Saturday for a chance to participate in UA’s most successful team – the mock trial advocacy team. Students who previously registered for the tryouts held in West Hall are given the chance to persuade judges into thinking they have the right stuff to join a team that boasts high job placement and a winning record.”

The University of Akron’s most confident and skillful law students will turn out Saturday for a chance to participate in UA’s most successful team – the mock trial advocacy team.

Students who previously registered for the tryouts held in West Hall are given the chance to persuade judges into thinking they have the right stuff to join a team that boasts high job placement and a winning record.

The team, which arrived home Sunday from Florida after finishing as national quarterfinalists in the American Association of Justice Competition, will judge 75 students on Saturday during its annual tryouts.

I think it’s fair to say that the UA trial team is the most successful program in the entire university, not just the law school, trial team head coach Larry Sutter said. I think it’s something that everybody can take a great deal of pride in.

After looking at the team’s record, it is hard to argue with Sutter. This year alone, according to Sutter, UA earned many titles including a national championship, national runner-up, national semi-finalist, national quarter-finalist as well as a regional championship and second place in the Gourley Tournament.

For most law schools, that would be a wonderful history and, for us, that’s just one year, Sutter said.

Each year, the team brings home another award, but who exactly are the students and coaches that make up the trial team?

Students and Coaches

Virtually everybody who is a coach on the trial team is a former member of the team, program director Bill Rickett said. Some people come back very quickly to coach. In fact, one of our co-coaches on the AAJ team was an ’04 grad, paired with a veteran coach who’s been coaching for a long time, Larry Sutter.

Sutter, who has been coaching the team for 17 years, said he simply stepped into the role after he was on the team in 1989. Sutter also runs his own practice out of Cleveland.

According to Rickett, there are at least a dozen coaches every season, all of whom are veterans of the program.

Veteran student advocate Mallory Sander said the coaches should be credited with the success of the trial team.

Our coaches are all successful trial attorneys and have a specific way of approaching the case that is successful and unique, Sander said. We try the case many times before we ever set foot into a competition, which makes us very prepared.

Sutter said judges look for those who are hardworking, dedicated and willing to put time into the program.

You’re looking for an intangible oftentimes that you can’t describe that some people just have. I like to call it presence, Sutter said. Some people have presence when they walk into a room and some people don’t.

Sutter said this quality of presence is something that is innate.

You’re looking for that person who walks into a party and everybody knows that person just walked into the room, he said. That’s a hard thing to find and it is a hard thing to develop. You are either born with it or you’re not.

Sutter said the program turns out students from all over the academic spectrum. He also said good academic standing does not necessarily make a good trial lawyer.

You’re either born with this gift or you’re not.

According to Rickett, first year students must maintain a 2.5 GPA and upperclassmen need to remain in good standing, which equates to a 2.0 GPA, in order to try out.

Eight team members are eligible to return next year Rickett said. However every student must try out again.

Reasons students try out

Sutter said that there are two major reasons the trial team attracts so many students during tryouts.

It gives them a practical application to the scholarly thing they are learning in academics, Sutter said. They’re able to actually apply the rules of evidence that they’ve learned in class to a real situation.

Sutter said the other most popular reason students try out is because the trial team has a 100-percent placement rate.

No one has ever graduated from school as a part of the program and not received a job, Sutter said. I think that constitutes for itself.

Sutter also said his firm currently employs 30 lawyers, and half have come directly from the UA trial program. Sutter also said there are many others from the program who have gone on to be successful at other firms such as Brouse McDowell, Buckingham Doolittle, Roetzel and Andress and Reminger & Reminger in Cleveland. Sutter said a student even works for Jones Day, an international law firm.

Sutter said the experience gained through mock trials is invaluable.

There are certain arts that are involved in being a persuasive public speaker, asking leading questions on cross exam, asking non-leading questions on direct exam and giving effective, responsible closing arguments, Sutter said. It is an art that is learned over years by most trial lawyers, and what we try do in the program is give these students a head start into their careers.

The skills learned as part of the team are those which students can take with them and use in multiple aspects of the legal world.

I learned how to continue to hone the skills that I’ll need to not only be successful in the courtroom, but also successful in so many more avenues of life, Trial Team veteran John Conley said. The skills that we develop: confidence, speaking to groups, problem solving, effective development of testimony through both direct and cross examination, the art of persuasion, evidentiary objections and arguments and the shaping of a case, are transferable to many different aspects of being an attorney.

Sutter said: Coming out of this program these people have under their belt probably as many as 15 to 20 small trials.

Tryouts

Tryouts are simple according to Rickett. He said students are given a simple fact pattern from a fairly simple case and asked to prepare a five-minute opening statement or a closing argument.

Judges for the tryouts consist of coaches and veterans of the team who are not currently coaching. We score those opens and closes, compare our notes and then enter into the agonizing phase after all the students have tried out to determine who should be on the team and who we would like to be on the team, but unfortunately don’t have a spot for.

In Sander’s opinion, judges are looking for personality and confidence in a student’s presentation.

You have to be yourself and let your personality come out, Sander said. You also have to be confident in your abilities because if you’re not confident in your position, no one else will be either.

Conley agreed with Sander.

Stand up straight, look them in the eyes, don’t do crazy things with your hands or feet and show the coaches your personality, Conley said. You just have to be willing to be competitive and work hard and that is easy if you really want to do trial work. You also have to be able to take criticism well because that is a big part of the process.

This year, judges will choose between 15 and 20 students for the team. Some spots will remain open for what Rickett described as talent that may emerge during the summer and can be added. The team needs 20 students to fill its roster.

We want people who are going to be able to look us in the eye and persuade us and who exhibit the brains and personality to be able to do we
ll on the team, Rickett said. From what we can see in that five-minute snippet, we’re hoping we can spot that type of talent we know consistently over the years as the qualities that have made successful advocates in the past.

Still a learning

process

The trial advocacy team is also an educational tool students use to learn and earn two credits each semester toward graduation. According to Rickett, many first-year students are trying out for the trial team.

Those people who try out successfully are oftentimes people who have not had the advanced courses on evidence and trial advocacy, Rickett said. So beginning in the fall season, the coaches then become not only their coaches but also their teachers.

Our teams are a blending of those people who are veterans that have been on the team the year before and have come back for a second season and new people, Rickett said. The combination of the coaches and the upperclassmen act as both mentors coaches and as well as teachers on how to present a case, what the rules of evidence allow to be presented and don’t allow to be presented.

It’s a learning process for them from the very beginning.