UCLA School of Law’s A. Barry Cappello Trial Team is the national champion for a second straight year. The squad secured victory while repeating a previously unprecedented feat: winning the nation’s two biggest law school trial advocacy competitions in the same year.
UCLA Law’s wins in the National Trial Competition and the Student Trial Advocacy Competition also solidified its place as the No. 1 trial team in the country.
As an added bonus, the team’s win in the National Trial Competition – which, like most tournaments, can include multiple squads from any one school – came in an all-Bruin final trial, where both sets of competitors were from UCLA Law.
Bruins vs. Bruins
Sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and hosted by the Texas Young Lawyers Association, the National Trial Competition started in 1975 and is the oldest tournament in the country. More than 300 teams from more than 150 law schools competed in this season’s regional competitions, which were held on Zoom.
Following a successful run in the regional round earlier this semester, UCLA Law was one of only nine schools to qualify two teams for the national championship tournament of 30 teams. Natalie Garson '22 and Stephen Johnson '22 comprised one team. Regina Campbell '23 and Enrico Trevisani '22 were the other. The teams were coached by Justin Bernstein, director of UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy; Amanda Mundell, an appellate attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice; and Rahul Hari, a litigator at Wilkinson Stekloff.
When it came time to prepare for nationals, the team confronted a new challenge: For the first time in 26 months, it would be competing in person. "We were thrilled to compete in a real courtroom again. Trials are better in person," Bernstein says. "But because we won both Southern California bids to nationals, there was no one within 350 miles to scrimmage. That gave us an idea: Why not practice against the defending champs?" So one week before the competition, Avery Hitchcock '21 and Chandler Matz '21 – members of UCLA Law's 2021 national championship team – returned to campus to face this year's teams.
The preparation paid off. At nationals in Fort Worth, Texas, both UCLA Law squads finished the preliminary rounds undefeated, won their quarterfinal matchups, and, on April 2, celebrated when it was announced that they had stayed undefeated by winning their semifinal trials and would face each other in the championship. "I've been doing mock trial since high school. The final round against Regina and Enrico was the best trial I've ever been part of," Johnson says.
Ultimately, victory at nationals came down to a split decision between the two squads: The judges named Trevisani and Campbell the victors, while Campbell was named best advocate of the entire competition. In winning all 20 trials against teams from other schools and earning the national championship for the second year in a row, UCLA Law rewrote the record books. Four previous teams had won back-to-back national championships. Two schools had "closed out" a final round by placing both of their teams in the final. But UCLA Law became the first school to accomplish both feats at once.
A STAC’d Squad
But still more was to come. A week later, the Cappello Trial Team won the other national trial competition, the Student Trial Advocacy Competition, which is organized by the American Association of Justice and has been held for more than three decades. UCLA Law was the only law school of the 120-plus that entered the competition to qualify two teams for the national finals, which were held on Zoom in April.
One squad featured Rocky Maas ’22, Nicole Powell ’23, Sarah Stebbins ’23, and Seth Wacks ’22. The other included Kenneth Capesius ’22, Shasta Fields ’23, Celebre Fouka-Nganga ’23, and Hayley Huntley ’23. Bernstein coached the teams with Zach Fields, a judicial clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Iain Lampert, a professional communications expert.
At the STAC national finals, both UCLA Law teams reached the semifinals. It was the first time that a law school had ever placed two squads in the STAC “final four.” The team with Maas, Powell, Stebbins, and Wacks won the championship, with Stebbins named best advocate. Maas, who was a member of UCLA Law’s STAC-champion team in 2021, became the first law student ever to win STAC twice.
Wacks and Maas found the championship particularly sweet because they were undergraduate mock trial teammates at UCLA. “Winning was great,” Maas says. “Winning with Seth, after all these years competing together, was extra special.”
Primed for Practice
Wacks, Maas, and all members of the trial team earned invaluable preparation for impactful careers in the courtroom. After graduation, Maas is headed to Perkins Coie in San Diego, and Wacks will work at Sullivan & Cromwell in Los Angeles.
For teammates Johnson and Garson, who were co-counsel on the trial team throughout law school, their competition careers wrap up with five tournament victories. After graduation, Johnson is headed to the plaintiffs securities firm Robbins Geller Rudman & Dowd in San Diego. Garson is headed to the litigation department of Goodwin Procter in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, Trevisani finishes law school with the best trial competition record ever at UCLA Law. He is the first student to win all three of the major national championships: the Tournament of Champions in 2020, the American Association of Justice's Student Trial Advocacy Competition in 2021, and the National Trial Competition in 2022. He also won five other competitions, with a 44-0 record in trial. After graduation, he is headed to Michelman & Robinson in New York.
Campbell and Stebbins – the two national best advocate winners – will return next season as 3Ls. Campbell has already won five law school trial competitions and six best advocate awards. This summer, she is splitting her time between the Los Angeles offices of Susman Godfrey and Morrison & Foerster. Stebbins has already won five law school trial competitions and two best advocate awards. This summer, she is working at the New York office of Latham & Watkins.
Overall, the 2021-22 season was another record-breaking campaign for UCLA Law’s trial team. UCLA Law won nine trial competitions, including the Tournament of Champions, National Civil Trial Competition, Summit Cup, Battle of Experts, and 64-team, single-elimination All-Star Bracket Challenge. During two different dominant stretches, the team won 20 consecutive trials.
“The statistic I’m most proud of is that 25 different UCLA Law students competed in a national final round this year,” Bernstein says. “This wasn’t one or two great advocates achieving success. This was an entire program of students who are ready to try a case in court.”