The UC Hastings Trial Team, which participates year-round in competitions throughout the U.S., recently took second place in the prestigious California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ) tournament co-sponsored by UC Hastings. 3Ls Jessica Guest, Isaac Jackson, Justin Page and Hannah Worek masterfully prosecuted and defended a complex murder case that was ripped from local headlines, resulting in the team’s best showing at CACJ since the tournament’s inception seven years ago.
The team dominated most of the competition. “These students are smart, focused, ethical, diverse and magical in a courtroom. The fact that they progressed as far as they did against other great teams from across the country speaks volumes about their abilities and dedication to teamwork and the craft of trial advocacy,” said head coach Geoff Hansen, who has led the Trial Team for 16 years.
Competing in mock trial is not for the faint of heart. Training for a tournament entails devoting dozens of hours to practice over the course of several weeks to learn incredibly detailed and complex fact patterns that require competitors to become intimately familiar with their dual roles as lawyers and witnesses. UC Hastings alumni play an integral role by volunteering their time to work with the team. “The alumni network for Trial Team is insane. Alumni who are prosecutors, private defense lawyers and public defenders–every aspect of trial advocacy is represented by an alumnus who coaches us,” said Page.
In addition to the team’s dramatic finish, Page effectively snatched victory from the jaws of the winning team by clinching the tournament’s coveted George W. Porter Award for Best Advocate. Until this year, judges had always bestowed the award upon a member of the first place team. It also marked the first time a UC Hastings student received the honor.
Guest, Jackson and Worek also greatly impressed. “It was clear after the qualifying rounds that the case was nearly impossible for prosecution teams to win, but Isaac and Jessica, our prosecutors, were just beautiful to watch and the presiding judge went out of his way to email the organizers to sing Hannah’s praises,” said Sarah Potter ’11, a private defense lawyer who has helped coach the Trial Team for the past five seasons. She joined Hansen and fellow alumna Sarah Hawkins ’08 to prepare the four teammates for the CACJ tournament.
Once the tournament begins, unpredictability reigns. “We’ve had so many times in practice where we’re like ‘there’s no way a witness would say something like that.’ But we get to trial and the witness says exactly that and we have to completely redevelop our entire argument in the middle of the trial. The experience really challenges you to think in the moment. You just can’t expect anything to go the way you think it’s going to go,” said Page. “A lot of people on the team want to be prosecutors, public defenders, civil trial attorneys…for students who are interested in those careers this is the best opportunity in law school to gain trial experience.”
To learn more about the Trial Team, click here. Tryouts take place annually in early April.