The A. Barry Cappello Trial Team at UCLA Law has made history, winning all three trial advocacy national championships for the third consecutive year.
In law school trial advocacy, there are three national competitions available to every law school. The National Trial Competition (NTC), organized by the Texas Young Lawyers Association and sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers, includes more than 300 teams from more than 150 law schools. The Student Trial Advocacy Competition (STAC), hosted by the American Association of Justice, includes more than 150 schools from more than 100 law schools. And the Tournament of Champions, sponsored by the National Board of Trial Advocacy, is available to every law school – if they qualify based on their record of results at the other two competitions.
In 2020-21, UCLA Law became the first law school ever to win all three events in the same academic year. The team triumphed again in the following year and therefore entered this school year with a new challenge: No school had ever won any of these events three years in a row. But by the end of its successful 2022-23 campaign, those records had been reduced to dust.
“Trial competitions are a way to demonstrate what our students are learning in the classroom,” says Justin Bernstein, director of UCLA Law’s Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy. “These results are a statement that our students are ready to try a case the day they graduate.”
Last October, UCLA Law won the Tournament of Champions. Students on the team were Regina Campbell ’23, Shasta Fields ’23, Will Lorenzen ’23 and Sarah Stebbins ‘23. Bernstein and Rahul Hari, an Assistant United States Attorney, coached the team to an undefeated record. The case problem was a civil suit styled after the recent Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial. The final round judging panel included several celebrated trial lawyers and, to the delight of students and coaches, Depp's lawyer Camille Vasquez presided over the trial.
Then, in February, UCLA Law competed at the NTC Regional competition in Los Angeles. With 20 teams and just two bids to nationals at stake, UCLA Law won both bids for the third year in a row. The case involved assigning blame for the death of cattle on a ranch – the power company for spraying chemicals on the ranch or the rancher for mistreating the animals. One winning team included Campbell and Fields. The other winning team featured students Peter Jones ’24 and Stebbins. They were coached by Bernstein and recent UCLA Law alum Avery Hitchcock ’21, an associate at Munger, Tolles & Olson who was part of the law school’s NTC Nationals-winning team in 2021.
In March, UCLA Law swept the STAC west coast regional, as well, earning the only two bids available to the 16 competing teams. One team was all 3Ls: Christian Cotter ’23, Celebre Fouka-Nganga ’23, Lorenzen and Kathryn Rosenfeld ’23. They were coached by Bernstein and alum Aidan Welsh ’19, a prosecutor in Santa Clara. The other squad was mostly 2Ls: Sophia Cherif ’24, Sydney Gaskins ’24, Edouard Goguillon ’24 and Alex Greer ’23. They were coached by Bernstein and UCLA Law alum Enrico Trevisani ’22, a trial lawyer at Michelman & Robinson in New York who was on the team that won the STAC Nationals in 2021 and NTC Nationals in 2022. The case was a wrongful death lawsuit following a workplace accident.
That made March a busy month. NTC Nationals and STAC Nationals were scheduled for the same weekend – March 30 to April 2. All four teams were preparing at the same time, and the NTC squads had a brand new case about whether a self-driving car was responsible for killing a bicyclist. “This might have been the busiest I’ve ever been as a coach,” Bernstein says.
The STAC teams traveled to New Orleans for nationals. After collaborating and competing on Zoom, some of the students and coaches met for the first time in person. Competition results at nationals favored the plaintiff, as more than two-thirds of trials were won by the team representing the dead worker. But UCLA Law overcame the imbalance. In the championship round, UCLA Law’s team of Cherif, Gaskins, Goguillon and Greer represented the defense and won the national championship, becoming the first school to win STAC Nationals three years in a row. Gaskins was named best advocate.
In San Antonio, the NTC Nationals was highly competitive, with 30 teams vying for the title, including three Ivy League teams. But by the time the two finalists were announced, the outcome was no longer in doubt: For the second year in a row, the final round was UCLA Law v. UCLA Law. The four students embraced, ate lunch together, and then tried their case to the largest jury they had ever seen: 23 members of the American College of Trial Lawyers. In a fantastic trial, Jones and Stebbins edged Campbell and Fields for the title. Stebbins finishes law school with the most trial competition first place finishes in law school history. Campbell finishes law school with the most trials won in law school history. And Fields finishes law school having never lost a trial to another school.
AAJ President Tad Thomas offered warm congratulations. “The fact that UCLA Law has taken the STAC title three years in a row is a testament to the team’s coaching, faculty advisors and constant support over those years,” he said. “Back-to-back-to-back titles takes more than one set of talented students but requires an entire community for recruiting the right set of litigators and instilling good trial skills. I look forward to seeing this incredibly talented team defend their title in 2024.”
“Some of these students had competed in college mock trial. Some had never done this before,” says Bernstein. “But all of them worked extremely hard, and all of them worked as a team.”
David R. Hagan and Ryan Baurle, who co-chaired the Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition, put the achievement in perspective. “For nearly 50 years, the top law school mock trial teams in the country have come to Texas to put forward their best student advocates in this competition,” they said. “For the first time in the history of this tournament, UCLA Law managed to claim the top prize three years in a row. This is a remarkable accomplishment.”
All of the graduating 3Ls have jobs lined up in their chosen fields and preferred destinations. Campbell will be joining Morrison Foerster in Los Angeles. Fields will be joining environmental law firm Shute, Mihaly, and Weinberger in San Francisco. Stebbins and Greer will be litigators in Latham & Watkins’s New York office. Lorenzen will be an associate at Gunderson Detmer in Los Angeles. And Cotter, Fouka-Ngnanga and Rosenfeld will be public defenders in California.