The Harvard Law School Trial Advocacy Team took first place at a national competition held in Puerto Rico by triumphing in the six-hour final round.
Only eight teams qualified for the invitation-only event, held between Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. All had won another national competition in recent years.
As in other trial advocacy competitions, team members simulated criminal trials by playing lawyers and witnesses. In two preliminary rounds, HLS beat law schools well-known for their trial advocacy programs. The team went undefeated by winning against Stetson University in the semifinal round, and against Barry University in the final.
The four-member team consisted of second-year law student Nneka I. Ukpai and third-year students Dominique D. Winters, Julian B. Thompson and John C. Quinn, who is a teaching fellow for Historical Study B-61, “The Warren Court and the Pursuit of Justice.”
The team was coached by Harvard Law School Criminal Justice Institute Deputy Director J. Soffiyah Elijah and Clinical Instructor Dehlia I. Umunna.
The team members credited their advisors for helping them win with just four weeks of preparation. “The coaches are beyond unbelievable,” Quinn said. “They were really good at creating this team environment and team atmosphere.”
Thompson said that the team succeeded because the members complemented one another. “Our team has four different people in the courtroom with distinctive styles and talents,” he said.
When judges score a trial, Thompson said, they are more likely to be impressed by a range of skills rather than a team that focuses on a single aspect, such as technical competence.
Thompson said that he is comfortable in the courtroom, Quinn is technically proficient without being arrogant, Winters is an exceptionally credible witness, and Ukpai is “the one with her game face on the entire time.”
Team members are not resting on their laurels. Their victory in Puerto Rico qualified them for an upcoming national competition in Chicago, according to Quinn. “We’re extremely excited about it and very confident,” he said.
Though three of their four members are graduating in the spring, enough other students have expressed interest that the HLS Trial Advocacy Team plans to continue on to compete in more national championships in the future.