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Trial advocacy is a hands-on learning experience for BYU law students

After a very close final round, Brigham Young University law students Joshua Chandler and David Scott came out victorious at the Trial Advocacy Competition, Thursday, Nov 6. Participants Elizabeth Thompson and Kyle Witherspoon came in second.

The competition creates a scene similar to one these students will soon work in. Organizer Adam K. Rasmussen said that setting the stage like this is one of the most valuable parts of trial advocacy to the students.

"The professors are great at teaching us law," Rasmussen said, "but actually going through the motions and getting to do it in a competitive environment, which increases stress just like it would in a court room, is invaluable."

David Stott, member of the winning team, believes that one of the most valuable aspects to trial advocacy is receiving feedback from practitioners.

"You learn skills that actually help you," Stott said. "At every round the judges give you more feedback on how to improve your skills."

Some of the advice was about mixing theme and theory. One of the competition's judges, Steve Killpack, a federal defender, explained mixing theme and theory is tricky because of the delicate balance between the two.

"It's always hard to know how to mix theme and theory," Killpack said. "You've got to use theory at least to get the case past the motion to dismiss. But what usually convinces juries is your theme. If there is one thing that stood out to me today, it would be what a wonderful job both sides did blending theme and theory."

Judge Ted Stewart of the U.S. District Court of the District of Utah was impressed with the students’ level of preparation for the competition.

"One of the reasons you did so well was because of how well you were prepared," Stewart said to the participants of the final round. "That is a lesson that you need to understand. There are lawyers who come to court who are not well prepared. It's very evident when they do. Those who are well prepared will always do better than those who are not."

Second-place team member Elizabeth Thompson was drawn to trial advocacy because she always loved theatre and wanted to find something that was similar. Trial advocacy has not let her down.

"I really like it, it feels like a show," Thomson said. "It's a blend of an improv and a scripted show."

First-year law student Kimberly Peterson participated in the Trial Advocacy Competition as a witness.

"I hadn't had a lot of experience with a trial setting and I thought this would be a fun way to get exposed to it," Peterson said. "You learn so much, it's exciting to get into the court room drama."

Another law student, Mary Beth Decker ,also participated as a witness because she thought it was an effective way of getting her foot into the door for future years.

"I wanted to see the older students compete," Decker said. "I thought I could learn a lot from them. I'm planning on pursuing litigation and even doing Trial Ad next semester. So I wanted to see how they did it and learn some tips for myself."

Some of the tips that Decker learned included structuring an argument and the importance of using threads that run through so the jury can remember the argument.

Writer: Marsha Stoutenburg

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