The National Trial Competition, established in 1975, is the oldest and most prestigious trial competition in the United States. UMKC Law has advanced to the national tournament three times in the past five years. This year, from March 22-25, Blake Smith (J.D. ’17) and Jackson Hobbs (J.D. ’17) made it to the quarterfinals, finishing in the top eight teams out of the 28 teams entered.
The competition attracts more than 140 law schools and involves more than 1,000 law students each year. 300 teams were initially entered into the regional competition. The students are judged on opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations, and the closing arguments. Smith said he felt his team’s strength was in their closing argument in the third round, which led them to the quarterfinals.
As soon as the regional competition ended, the team were assigned the problem and started research and preparation for the national tournament. The criminal case dealt with a small business owner who was charged with knowingly disposing gasoline that placed her maintenance man in imminent danger of serious bodily harm. The case mainly focused on the owner’s knowledge of the gasoline on her property.
Hobbs said one of the more challenging aspects of the National Tournament was working with a wide variety of witnesses that he and Smith had to prepare for each trial.
“We only had 15 minutes to prepare them and each witness had a different personality,” he said. However, Hobbs believed they did well at adapting to different types of witnesses and the judges and staying relaxed throughout the competition.
“I think we really executed our game plan,” Hobbs said. “We just happened to not win the whole thing. That’s just how tournaments at this high of a level turn out sometimes.”
Ultimately, Hobbs and Smith were defeated by the University of Alabama School of Law team. Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law won the national championship.
As UMKC Law has continued to rack up regional and national tournaments, students in the Advocacy Program have continually expressed their debt of gratitude to the faculty members who cultivate their talents and grow them as soon-to-be litigators.
“We just couldn’t win rounds and advance the way we did without help – plain and simple,” Smith said of Professor Rafe Foreman. “I have friends in other law schools, and they simply do not receive the same level of face-time and preparation with their professors.”
Professor Foreman, the Douglas R. Stripp Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of Advocacy, and Professor Michaelle Tobin have a hands-on approach to their courses and competitions, believing that a student working side-by-side with an attorney will help them truly understand what advocacy in action looks like in the legal profession. Students dedicate 20 hours each week working with the professors in preparation for competitions.
Hobbs echoed Smith’s remarks. “Tobin and Foreman really help us make the whole thing come together and set us up for success,” he said. “Their impact on the team is immeasurably positive.”
Although the team did not win the national tournament, competing in the National Trial Competition earned UMKC points that help the program qualify for the Tournament of Champions invitational tournament in the Fall of 2017. Only the top schools in the country are invited, based upon the points schools earn by performing well in national tournaments. The invitations are based on a three-year performance record at the National Trial Competition and the American Association of Justice (AAJ) National Student Trial Competition, and performances at prior Tournament of Champions tournaments. This semester, by making it to quarterfinals in both the National Trial Competition and the AAJ National Student Trial Competition, UMKC Law earned five Tournament of Champion points.
UMKC Law also recently received the first invitation to the exclusive Top Gun National Tournament in June 2017. Only 16 of the top schools in the nation receive an invitation to the competition.