Amid in-person school closures and global travel restrictions, UCLA School of Law has created online trial competitions for the nearly 10,000 law students and undergraduates whose competitions were cancelled as the world grapples with the COVID-19 crisis.
The National Online Trial Advocacy Competition, which UCLA Law launched on March 15 in collaboration with Fordham University School of Law, is open to all law students in the country. Using a case that is based on the celebrity college admissions scandal, students make videos of themselves performing opening statements as prosecutors or defense attorneys. More than 100 judges, including top trial attorneys and trial advocacy professors, will score the submissions. Prizes include $1,000 for winners and honors for top performers.
The College Mock Trial Online Championship, an undergraduate contest that went live on March 13 and is hosted exclusively by UCLA Law, invites students who are registered for the American Mock Trial Association’s 2020 regional tournaments to deliver an opening statement, closing argument or witness portrayal. Their videos will be judged by a panel of litigators, mock trial coaches and past competitors. Each category has a $500 first prize and recognition of top performers.
Both events will include the continued engagement of students in UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy. Every member of the UCLA Law trial team will help score the college competition, and some members plan to submit entries to the law school event, where they will be judged by attorneys who are not affiliated with UCLA.
“I saw my own students’ disappointment at the cancellation of their tournament, and I figured competitors everywhere could use a boost right now,” says Cappello Program Director Justin Bernstein, who created the online competitions when law schools and universities switched to remote modes of learning to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus. “The response from the trial advocacy community has blown me away. The American Mock Trial Association helped spread the word. So many lawyers have volunteered to judge. Students send questions about the case problem every day. We are expecting a lotof submissions.”
A member of the UCLA Law faculty since 2018, Bernstein has since steered the Cappello Program to unprecedented success: UCLA Law’s trial team has earned six tournament victories, twelve final-round appearances and the best competition record in the country.