Two squads of students representing UCLA School of Law’s A. Barry Cappello Trial Team swept the National Trial Competition’s Southern California regional round, which was held virtually Feb. 4-7. The victory marked the first time that UCLA Law’s trial team won both of the region’s bids to the national tournament.
Sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and Texas Young Lawyers Association, the National Trial Competition is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious trial advocacy tournaments. About 300 teams compete across 15 regional competitions in February, and the top two teams from each region advance to the national finals in April.
UCLA Law entered two teams in the regional competition. Second-year students Natalie Garson ’22 and Stephen Johnson ’22 won all five of their trials – and 18 of 19 juror ballots – en route to the region’s top record. Avery Hitchcock ’21, Delaney Gold-Diamond ’21 and Chandler Matz ’21, all 3Ls, earned the region’s other bid to the national finals by defeating two teams from Loyola Law School.
The case involved a civil wrongful death claim against a utility company after a man died in a fire allegedly started by an electrical pole. UCLA Law’s two teams worked together but took different approaches to their plaintiff strategies. The 2L team focused on the defendant’s attempt to hide evidence after the fire, and the 3L team argued that the defendant had been lazy and careless when installing the wires. Both strategies proved successful.
“I came to UCLA largely because of the trial program,” Johnson says. He and his co-counsel Garson are weighing summer offers from top litigation firms. After graduation, Hitchcock and Gold-Diamond will be clerking on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Matz will be joining Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
The teams were coached by Justin Bernstein, director of the law school’s A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy; Amanda Mundell, an appellate attorney in the U.S. Department of Justice; and Rahul Hari, a trial lawyer at Wilkinson Stekloff.
“I’m so proud of these students,” Bernstein says. “Because the competition was so early in the semester, they decided to hold practices throughout winter break. I’m glad their hard work paid off.”
The trial team has won four competitions this academic year, the most in school history.