A year and a half after graduating from UCLA School of Law and starting her “dream job” as a public defender in Los Angeles, Delaram Kamalpour ’19 has already taken three trials through to a verdict. Shortly after one ended in a hung jury and dismissal, her client learned that it had, in fact, been her first trial. But, she recalls, that fact surprised him: “He thought it was my hundredth.”
Looking back on the experience, Kamalpour can understand the confusion. She remembers being comfortable in the courtroom, even on her first go at it. She knew where to stand. She had a sense of how much to project her voice. She could tell how to move. “I think a lot of my confidence in that first trial came from my mock trial experience at UCLA Law,” she says. Kamalpour was undefeated in trial competitions during her 3L year. “It’s the greatest joy of my life to represent my clients. But it’s a tough job, and even harder when you’re starting out. I’m so thankful that my years in mock trial came back as muscle memory to guide me.”
A graduate of UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy, Kamalpour is among a top-tier cohort of law school alumni who enter practice ready to represent their clients in the courtroom from day one. At UCLA Law, students in the Cappello Program gain hands-on skills in trial practice, learning the ins and outs of oral and written advocacy from alumni and other expert trial lawyers through rigorous classes, experiential coursework, and opportunities including the school’s mock trial team, which has ranked No. 1 in the nation for the past two years. In addition, Cappello Scholarships go to promising 1Ls who show a history of success and interest in trial advocacy. And graduating students who have completed an exhaustive set of courses and activities earn a Cappello Certificate in Trial Advocacy.
“The goal of our trial advocacy program is both simple and audacious: We want our students to be prepared to try a case the day they graduate,” says Justin Bernstein, director of the Cappello Program. “That’s why our classes and competitions are so demanding.”
‘The Program Helped Me Find My Voice’
Kyle DeCamp ’19 left UCLA Law with a Cappello Certificate, having won the law school’s Statue of Justice, which goes to the top oral advocate in each graduating class, and the American Association for Justice’s Student Trial Advocacy Competition’s regional championship for two straight years. An associate at Dechert in Los Angeles for the past six months, his law school experience has already made a real difference in his daily work outlining depositions, preparing motions, and doing many other tasks that are key to trial preparation.
“I had the privilege to fly to Pensacola, Florida, where I assisted with a two-week federal jury trial,” he says of his first major experience at a big law firm. “I had the opportunity to draft cross-examinations, prep our team’s expert witnesses, strategize with trial counsel on their opening and closing slide-decks, and second-chair during the examinations of witnesses I helped prepare. It was a whirlwind couple of weeks, but it was so gratifying to put to work what the Cappello Program taught me. Since then, I’ve been full steam ahead on trial work.”
That includes his first jury trial. “I argued motions in limine, picked a jury, and cross-examined witnesses — all as a second-year attorney!” he marvels. After his cross-examination of the defendant, opposing counsel shook DeCamp’s hand and said he couldn’t believe that DeCamp was so comfortable in the courtroom at such a young age. “These opportunities, while amazing, are humbling,” DeCamp continues. “Whenever I draft direct or cross questions, I think back to the basics from trial team practice and my trial classes. I was able to jump right in to trial work knowing trial procedure, how to argue the rules of evidence, how to feel comfortable in a courtroom, and how to present myself as the best advocate I can be.”
Aidan Welsh ’19 also graduated from UCLA Law with a Cappello Certificate in hand. As a student, he won three trial competitions and went undefeated as an advocate on the trial team as a 3L. Now a deputy district attorney with the Santa Clara County district attorney’s office, he has worked on cases involving vehicular manslaughter, domestic violence, and stalking. Often, he has been able to use his skills in front of a judge or jury. And since he graduated two years ago, Welsh has served as a coach for UCLA Law’s Cappello Trial Team, helping to pass along his expertise to the next generation of young litigators.
Like all UCLA Law graduates, Welsh gained untold abilities and knowledge in law school. But, he says, one thing stands out, especially in his post-graduate work: “the time I spent in the trial advocacy program, working with experienced litigators and coaches. The program helped me find my voice and gave me the confidence to stand in a courtroom and argue with conviction.”
His fellow Cappello Program graduates share the sentiment — and the same brand of confidence in the courtroom that only comes through deep dedication and experience, starting at UCLA Law.
During her most recent trial, Kamalpour recalls, “My client and I began our direct examination in front of the jury, and it all came back: lessons learned about rhythm, flow, looping, active listening.” At the end of her closing argument, a juror clapped. A short time later, she had earned her first not-guilty verdict. And at the conclusion, two female jurors hung back to congratulate Kamalpour on her performance, telling her that they were proud to see a woman dominate the courtroom with precision, organization, and passion — and that they were inspired to watch her throughout the trial.
“It’s hard to put to words what that moment felt like,” she says. “I hope to have many more successes in my career, but to have had that kind of a reaction early on will carry me through for a long time.”