The UCLA Law Trial Team won second place at a national competition in January.
The team placed second in the American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment Law’s Law Student Trial Advocacy Competition, following their success in November in the West Coast regional competition.
Four UCLA School of Law students traveled to New Orleans to represent the team and compete for the national title. Participants were required to engage in a mock trial case. The topic of this competition’s mock trial involved sexual assault in the workplace and prison reform. Half the team represented the defense, and the other half the plaintiff, and each student had specific jobs such as making opening and closing statements.
Deeksha Kohli, a graduate student in law and one of the co-presidents of the Law Trial Team, said the trial was very complicated because of the sensitivity of the sexual harassment topic.
“Trying to be the defense was difficult because you never want to sound like you’re victim-blaming,” Kohli said.
Justin Bernstein, the director of UCLA School of Law’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy, said one of the challenges the team faced was adapting to the views and customs of a different region in the country.
“One challenge is that, when you advance from a regional competition to a national competition, you have to get used to the local customs. That can be as small as vocabulary differences in courtrooms in New Orleans as compared to California, but it’s also a different juror pool,” Bernstein said. “Obviously you don’t want to paint with too broad a brush and you don’t want to overgeneralize, but you also know that people are going to have different views about things in different parts of the country.”
Bernstein added the UCLA team’s preparedness and dedication allowed it to stand out from other competitors.
“Some of the things that make our team so successful starts with preparation; our students work really hard and are extremely talented,” Bernstein said. “They’re bright, they’re diverse, and they come with great amounts of experience before law school and that shows in the courtroom.”
Mikayla Wasiri, a graduate student in law who competed with the team, said she thinks the team was successful because of its energy and its calculated approach to the topic.
“I think we were just a lot more dynamic and we also had a much stronger case theory. I was on the defense and we chose a case theory that wouldn’t alienate the audience,” Wasiri said. “Because it was sexual harassment, we chose not to attack the plaintiff.”
Wasiri added Bernstein was instrumental to their success in this process.
“Having (Bernstein) be a part of the program has really transformed the UCLA law mock trial program,” Wasiri said. “It’s grown so much in the one year I’ve been on it.”
Bernstein said the results of the competition were consistent with the past results of the team.
“It’s pretty representative of all of our results this year. We’ve been to four competitions and at those four competitions we’ve sent seven different teams,” Bernstein said. “The worst result that we’ve had at any competition is reaching the semifinals.”
He added all seven teams who have competed so far this year have made the playoffs at their individual competitions.
The next competition for the UCLA Law Trial Team will be in March, and three of the four students who competed in New Orleans are preparing for that event.
Bernstein said, regardless of how the team performs, he is impressed with the group’s dependability.
“Obviously we’re very proud every time we bring home the first place trophy, but even more than that, I’m pleased with the students’ consistency,” he said.