Two teams of UCLA School of Law students dominated a regional mock trial competition this month, and one team is going on to represent the Southwestern United States in the American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Program finals in April.
The regional tournament included 16 teams from nine law schools, but the final round pitted a team of UCLA Law 2Ls against a team of UCLA Law first-year students. The 2Ls prevailed.
Bailey Loverin, who along with Jason Brower is co-president of the Mock Trial Association at UCLA Law, was on the winning team along with Kyle DeCamp, Connor Trafton and Aidan Welsh. The 1L team included Kian Khajooei, Deeksha Kohli, Mikayla Wasiri and Corey Wilson.
Loverin said the thrill of mock trial is in the "mental gymnastics. There is courtroom drama: You make and respond to objections, present complex evidence in an understandable way and try to get the jury on your side. The question is, 'How do I come out on top, how do I exert control of the courtroom?'"
The grueling competition took place in the Los Angeles Superior Court courthouse in Santa Monica from March 1 to March 4. Students litigated a complex medical malpractice case involving a doctor whose patient caused a car accident after the doctor, it was alleged, negligently failed to diagnose a seizure disorder. Judges scored teams on their opening statements, closing arguments, and direct- and cross-examinations of witnesses.
The teams were coached by UCLA Law and Mock Trial Association alumni Makoa Kawabata '14, an associate at Kermani LLP who as a student was national mock trial champion in the Estrella Trial Advocacy Competition in Puerto Rico; and J.D. Rees '14, a litigation associate at Sheppard Mullin.
Kawabata said this year's UCLA teams "were able to roll with the punches really well, both in the sense that they were quick on their feet in the courtroom and that they stepped up despite having such a brief amount of time to prepare."
He added that he and Rees sought to instill in the students a sense of "trial advocacy judo. In order to be able to use the opponents' theory and momentum against them, you have to know everything about the case, but you also have to not be rigid or blind to the strategies the other side is using."
Rees said the students threw themselves into scrimmages—"mock" mock trials—in which he and Kawabata offered guidance on everything from how best to highlight the credentials of an expert witness before he or she testifies to how to introduce and summarize a blow-up of an evidentiary document or photo for maximum impact.
"They were able to get up to speed very quickly, and to help teach their teammates," Rees said. "What really put this group over the top is that they got together on their own — on weekends, in evenings, on days we didn't have planned scrimmages — and worked on it themselves."
Rees thanked UCLA Law faculty and alum A. Barry Cappello '65, whose $1 million gift to the school in 2017 supports curriculum, scholarships and a new certificate program in trial advocacy, for invigorating the mock trial effort.
"UCLA Law has some tremendous professors and inspiring classes, but I don't think anything I did in law school prepared me to be a litigator as well as the mock trial program," he said.
Added Kawabata, "The trial advocacy teams were such an important part of my law school education that I can't help but go back to participate and hope to enrich the law school experience of the students who are competing today."
The AAJ STAC finals will take place April 12 through April 15 in Raleigh, North Carolina.
From left: Kyle DeCamp, Bailey Loverin, Connor Trafton, J.D. Rees '14, Aidan Welsh, Jason Brower, Makoa Kawabata '14, Mikayla Wasiri, Corey Wilson, Kian Khajooei and Deeksha Kohli.