UCLA School of Law’s A. Barry Cappello Trial Team won the Battle of the Experts competition over the weekend of Oct. 24-25.
The team included third-year students Blake Berich ’21, Chris Damitio ’21 and Avery Hitchcock ’21. They were coached by Zach Fields, an associate in Wilkinson Walsh’s New York office, and Justin Bernstein, the director of UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy. The team had to navigate a difficult case: A father had confessed to killing his six-year-old son in a brutal fashion, and the only question for the jury was his insanity defense.
Hosted by Drexel University’s Thomas R. Kline School of Law, the Battle of the Experts brings together most of the top trial advocacy schools in the country, and the field included nine of the top 10 law schools in the U.S. News & World Reporttrial advocacy rankings. The tournament gets its name from its unusual format: Each team is provided real-life medical professionals to portray its expert witnesses. The presiding judge in each trial is an expert in the field of trial advocacy, either as a professor or a coach.
UCLA Law’s team won its division after facing strong opponents from St. Mary’s School of Law, Fordham University School of Law and Chicago-Kent College of Law. In the playoff rounds, UCLA Law faced two previously undefeated schools. As the prosecution, UCLA Law defeated the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law in the semifinal. In the final, UCLA Law represented the defendant against a powerhouse team from Temple University Beasley School of Law, but UCLA Law won the ballots of all five judges. (Watch the semifinal here and the final here.)
The UCLA Law team received praise for its oral advocacy and use of demonstrative aids – a crucial tool now that all trials are virtual. “Trial by Zoom is a new puzzle for everyone,” Bernstein says. “Zach and our students did a phenomenal job of adapting to this new venue.”
All three students on the team have already accepted post-graduate jobs. Berich will be joining Sheppard Mullin, Damitio will be joining Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton and Hitchcock will be clerking for Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw ’79 of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
UCLA Law is now the only school with two trial advocacy tournament victories this fall.