A St. Mary’s moot court team was crowned national champion at the Civil Rights and Liberties Moot Court Competition at Emory University School of Law in Atlanta this fall, adding another title to the St. Mary’s advocacy program’s impressive resume.
The team of Trevor Hall, Heather Haywood and Marion Reilly (all third-year law students) beat out 25other teams from across the country – including traditional rival South Texas College of Law – for the national title. In the final round, the St. Mary’s team topped last year’s champion, Michigan State University School of Law. Reilly was recognized as Best Brief Writer at the competition for a second straight year. Hall was awarded the Best Advocate Award for the finals round.
“The experience is extraordinary,” said Reilly, who has placed in the top three of all but one of the 12 briefs she’s written as a competitor. “What I’ve learned is the ability to apply everything I’ve learned to the real world. It is hard to learn that from a book.”
“We enjoy engaging in cutting edge legal problems that could possibly end up in front of the Supreme Court,” said Hall. “We learn all there is to know about the issues and where the hairline fissures are in the case where we can apply pressure.” The team attributes much of their success to the influence of coach Ricky Poole ( J.D. ’90), who practices at the Law Offices of Ricky J. Poole in San Antonio.
“As an attorney with both a trial and appellate practice, I can tell you that I approach trial hearings and appellate arguments in the same way that I was taught to approach moot court rounds: determine the most persuasive way to present the most important points that will assist you in winning your argument, and answer any questions from the judge or justice in a manner that further bolsters your argument,” said Poole.
“Ricky is adamant about us being prepared for any and all questions we could possibly anticipate in our round,” said Haywood. “I wouldn’t be the advocate I am today if it weren’t for his instruction and persistence.”
“He deserves the majority of the recognition for our accomplishments, which would have been impossible without his guidance and sacrifice,” said Hall. And the team members understand sacrifice, as they spend four to five hours a day most days practicing and preparing for competition, on top of their regular law school load. “The best feeling in the world is being asked a specific question by the judge that you’ve already answered in practice. It’s hard not to smile; it’s a huge sense of victory.”
Advocacy is a hallmark of the St. Mary’s School of Law legal education. Year after year, the program produces winning teams. The St. Mary’s advocacy programs are consistently recognized for excellence on regional and national levels.
“From the days when St. Mary’s was known as ‘the lawyer’s law school’, it has maintained a reputation as a top contender. The advocacy program continues to be a feather in the cap of the law school,” said David Schlueter, Hardy Professor of Law and St. Mary’s director of Advocacy Programs.
The program is comprised of three primary components that allow students both academic and competitive opportunities to hone their skills prior to graduation: curriculum, Board of Advocates, and the external advocacy program.
The curriculum is designed to give students an introduction to litigation and specific trial techniques, such as voir dire examination of jury panels, opening statements and direct examination of witnesses, and continue building on that foundation using technology to present cases, addressing strategic and evidentiary concerns surrounding the use of technology.
St. Mary’s courtroom, one of the most technologically advanced courtrooms in the country, serves as the backdrop for this training. Not only does it adjust to accommodate jury trials or appellate court arguments, but is equipped to record and webcast proceedings and video conference remote testimony. Evidence can be fed into the courtroom presentation system and presented on a large projection display, an in-wall plasma display and flatscreen monitors at the bench, tables and jury box.
The courtroom is also the practice facility for the external advocacy program, which includes moot court, mock trial, negotiation, Black Law Student Association (BLSA) and Hispanic Law Student Association (HLSA) competitions. Students try out for the teams and are then coached by adjunct professors, like Poole, to prepare for regional and national competitions.
Aside from travelling to competitions throughout the fall and spring semesters, St. Mary’s also hosts the Lone Star Classic every October. This competition and the internal competitions are run by the Board of Advocates, a group of 20 law students.
“We could not adequately provide a quality advocacy program for our students without the strong support of the San Antonio bench and bar,” Schlueter said. “They serve as adjunct professors for our advocacy courses and as judges for the internal competitions and the Lone Star Classic. In addition, members of the local judiciary generously give us access to their courtrooms for not only competitions but also for the mock teams to practice.”
“I derive a tremendous amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from coaching St. Mary’s students,” said Poole. “First and foremost, I have the opportunity to work with amazing students. I can’t tell you how much I have learned over the years from the students that have been part of the External Advocacy Program. Second, I love watching the students’ progress through the program as they refine and further develop their advocacy skills. And finally, I truly consider it an honor to be able to coach teams that represent my law school all over the country.”