UCLA Law’s Cappello Trial Team Takes No. 1 National Ranking

September 30, 2020

The A. Barry Cappello Trial Team at UCLA School of Law now ranks as the No. 1 trial advocacy team in the nation.

During the 2019-20 academic year, UCLA Law’s team rose two positions to take the top spot in the prestigious Trial Competition Performance Rankings, an objective measure of success in interscholastic competitions that Fordham University School of Law’s Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy Center compiles annually. More than 160 law schools regularly participate in trial advocacy tournaments, and detailed rankings data show that the Cappello Team has the best overall record in the country during the combined past three years.

“When the current program was devised and set up with Dean Mnookin and we set out to fund a highly successful program, never did we dream that UCLA Law could reach the very heights it did so quickly,” says UCLA Law alumnus and team sponsor A. Barry Cappello '65. “So it took a motivated alum, a dedicated dean, a superb director of the program and brilliant, dedicated law students to make it No. 1.”

Cappello is one of the nation’s leading trial lawyers and managing partner of the Santa Barbara-based law firm Cappello & Noël. His $2.75 million in total gifts to UCLA Law have included the creation of the Cappello Courtroom in 2006 and the founding of the A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy in 2017.

Justin Bernstein joined UCLA Law in 2018 as director of the Cappello Program. Since then, the Cappello Team has entered 16 trial competitions, reaching the playoff rounds in 15, the finals in 10 and first place in five. “Our students are phenomenal,” Bernstein says. “They are ready to step into a courtroom the moment they graduate.”

Many participants earn Cappello Certificates in Trial Advocacy at UCLA Law, and most of the program’s students secure full-time employment in J.D.-required positions before graduation.

The Trial Competition Performance Rankings are run by Adam Shlahet, director of the Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy Center. The rankings assign law schools points for finishing first, second or as a semifinalist in trial competitions. Says Shlahet, “The level of advocacy on display at trial competitions nowadays is extraordinary. Success in that arena, especially repeated success, deserves to be recognized. What UCLA has been able to do in the last few years is nothing short of astounding.” 

In addition to its competition success, UCLA Law has expanded its trial advocacy course offerings under the leadership of Assistant Dean for Experiential Education Allison Korn, Professor of Practice Eileen Scallen and Bernstein. Since 2018, UCLA Law has added two sections of introductory trial advocacy classes, as well as Advanced Trial Advocacy, Advanced Criminal Advocacy, Advanced Evidentiary Objections, and Trial Practice. UCLA Law also offers scholarships for students interested in trial advocacy.

“I grew up always wanting to be a trial lawyer. I went to UCLA law school, but there was no trial advocacy program. Of course, that training took place in 'on the job experience' and I was focused enough to choose government law positions, where I learned,” Cappello explains. “Since giving back has been an important part of my life, when the time came and I could devote significant resources to my desire to see my law school, UCLA, focus on trial advocacy, I was happy to do it.” 

Since 2018, the Cappello Team has included 44 students: Pauline Alarcon '22, Blake Berich '21, Amelia Bruckner '21, Brittnee Bui '20, Jamie Butts '22, Kenny Capesius '22, Shawn Choi '21, Christopher Damitio '21, Kyle DeCamp '19, Nick Dyess '21, Bryn Evans '22, Jack Eyers '21, Adrian Ferrari '19, Margret Flodeen '19, Jay Friedel '21, Catherine Gardner '20, Natalie Garson '22, Delaney Gold-Diamond '21, Andrew Gordon '22, Ian Grady '19, Avery Hitchcock '21, Stephen Johnson '22, Ian Jong '19, Delaram Kamalpour '19, Kian Khajooei '20, Deeksha Kohli '20, Bailey Loverin '19, Rocky Maas '22, Chandler Matz '21, Mike Mosher '20, Matt O'Donnell '20, Emily Owen '21, Kathy Pappas '19, Corinne Peters '20, Shalaka Phadnis '19, Nicole Rubin (visiting student '20), Tiffany Sarchet '21, Haley Silvano '20, Mykel Skinner '22, Kassia Stephenson '20, Connor Trafton '19, Enrico Trevisani '22, Seth Wacks '22, Mikayla Wasiri '20, Aidan Welsh '19 and Corey Wilson '20.

Coaches have included several alumni and friends of UCLA Law: Christian Acevedo, Justin Bernstein, Alex Bluebond, Kyle DeCamp '19, Zach Fields, J'me Forrest, Bailey Loverin '19, Amanda Mundell, J.D. Rees '14, Elizabeth Smiley, Neil Thakor, Connor Trafton '19, Andrew Tran, Melissa Watt and Aidan Welsh '19.

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