In the spring 2016 issues of the National Jurist, UMKC School of Law was ranked #12 on the Best Schools for Practical Skills Training and later rated an A- in Trial Advocacy. UMKC Law’s advocacy program continues to grow each year, and the Show Me Challenge has become a nationally respected and successful part of the program. In addition, Trial Advocacy students have been led to many tournament victories throughout the past few years.
UMKC Law is the only University that offers a national voir dire competition. Professors S. Rafe Foreman and Michaelle Tobin created and established the “Show Me Challenge” four years ago, as a three-day event that encourages students to gain knowledge and experience in an often under-taught element of trial practice. The idea for the competition arose from the Educating Advocates Conference, where Foreman collaborated with others to revitalize voir dire as an art form.
The Show Me Challenge is by invitation only, and the acceptance of a school is based on the quality of the programs and whether the team excelled in the Show Me Challenge the previous year. Schools from all over the country compete, from California to New York to Kansas to Texas (and that was just this year’s final four). Foreman and Tobin also recruited Bartimus Frickleton Robertson & Gorny PC and the Dana James Foundation to sponsor the competition in its first two years, and Holman Schiavone, LLC sponsored the Show Me Challenge for the next three. Unlike at other competitions, where bias can come into play, at the Show Me Challenge, the student advocates pick their own jurors. Tobin and Foreman also ensure that the problem is relevant to current legal issues for each year’s competition. Tobin wrote a problem that tied with the San Bernardino shooter, which not only changed how participants prepared, but also raised awareness of that specific issue.
The Show Me Challenge has since inspired others; the University of Wyoming School of Law hosted their own regional tournament and the winner attended the Show Me Challenge. This has sparked a new conversation about whether each region should have its own tournament that would ultimately lead to the UMKC Law competition. The past winners were Texas Tech, Stetson, Texas and Washburn.
UMKC Law is also the only known university to offer a “Master of Advocacy” class. In this class, students work directly with Foreman on real cases. There are no fictional problems. This year, Foreman and his team are working on a case that deals with negligent entrustment of a firearm. Much like the exposure to hot topics at the Show Me Challenge, students gain hands-on experience in the Master of Advocacy class and deal with issues that are likely to arise again.
This year, the students intend to take the case to trial and then onward to the Supreme Court in Texas, which could alter the course of Texas law. In the case, Foreman is representing Eric Keyes, a Texas musician. Although Ryan Keith McGuire did not possess a gun license, he took his father’s gun, arrived on Keyes’ doorstep and shot Keyes multiple times. Foreman seeks to prove Ronnie Keith McGuire, Ryan’s father, negligently entrusted his son with a firearm, even though he is a thirty year substance abuse counselor and was aware that his son was unstable and clinically depressed. In turn, Ronnie Keith McGuire would also be responsible for Keyes’ injuries.
In UMKC Law’s advocacy program, students are able to put everything they learn into practice in mock trial competitions. From the In Vino Veritas Mock Trial Tournament to the Buffalo Niagara Mock Trial Competition to the Judge Kelly Invitational Competition, students have made it to the final four throughout the fall semester.
In November, students competed in the ABA Law Student Division Negotiation Competition, where they advanced to nationals for the twentieth time out of the past twenty-six years. The law school team has also made it to the Final Four four times in that particular competition and has come third in the nation twice. This past March, our law school team also competed in the nationals of the 41st Annual National Trial Competition. This UMKC team is the second to make it to the National Trial Competition Tournament in three years.
The advocacy program’s success is also attributed to the scholarships sponsored by several law firms and organizations, which allow the students to focus solely on preparing for the trial competitions without the distractions of finding outside work to manage the costs of law school and living expenses. The sponsors include the Kemper Family Foundation and law firm support from Davis Bethune Jones; Dollar, Burns & Becker; Langdon Emison and the Edgar Law Firm.
Whether through the Mastery of Advocacy courses, other hands on experiences or advocacy teams, the UMKC Law graduate of today has the opportunity to graduate as a “trial ready” attorney. This has resulted in more employers reaching out to Foreman to request trial-ready graduates. Experience leads to employment, and here at UMKC law, students will see and experience advocacy in action.