The UC Hastings Trial Team earned First Place in the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law's 12th Annual Law Student Trial Advocacy Competition!
The winning team, composed of four 3L students – Chelsea Heaney, Mira Karageorge, Justin Page, and Hannah Worek, – beat Texas’ St. Mary’s University in the final round. The championship competition took place January 23 & 24 in New Orleans.
“This was a long, long time coming. It was an exceptional effort,” exuded head coach/adjunct professor Geoffrey Hansen, who has led the team for over 16 years while also serving full-time as chief assistant federal public defender in San Francisco.
The team earned the trip to the Big Easy by besting UC Berkeley’s mock trial team, last year’s Nationals champion, in the Regional competition in October. The eight regional winners from around the U. S. moved on to compete in the Nationals.
For the duration of the tournament, including the regionals, all the teams are presented with a single case, based on an actual trial. During the mock trials the teams may be asked to represent either the plaintiff or defense side, with little advance notice. So, in the morning trial, two team members may act as defense attorneys, only to switch and play witnesses for the plaintiff in the afternoon trial: with their other two teammates filling the roles of defense witnesses and plaintiff attorneys accordingly.
As Page puts it, “You don’t know walking into it who’s going to put on their ‘lawyer clothes’ and be giving a 25 minute opening statement and who’s going to be pretending to be a cute, charming secretary who observed things in the office.”
But having to become so intimately familiar with all aspects of a case, and needing to convincingly argue for either side at a moment’s notice, only makes them stronger lawyers, according to the students.
“It really helps you to anticipate the other side’s arguments,” Heaney said.
“Seeing all sides gives you tools to flesh out your side’s case” Karageorge agreed.
Hansen estimated that, taking into account the numerous practice sessions, or “mock mock trials” as it were, along with the three Regional rounds and four National ones, by the time all is said and done, the team has “litigated” the case “hundreds of times.” He laughed. “By the end, they are really sick of that case.”
Joining the team empowered the future litigators (all four plan to be trial lawyers) in other ways, as well.
“Doing these trials repeatedly really helped develop my instincts in the courtroom much faster than would otherwise be the case,” said Page.
Team members were unanimous in heaping praise upon their cohorts, using words like “incredibly supportive” and “family,” and equally ebullient in crediting Hansen and alumni coach Briana Curran for their dedication and inspiration.
“I couldn’t have hoped for better teammates,” Heaney affirmed.
Chimed Worek, “Geoff was amazing, teaching us how to look at the bigger picture and best present a case to a jury. Briana is equally dedicated, spending hours helping us fine-tune our directs, crosses, and speeches.”
Karageorge agreed. “Geoff is a wonderful man who creates a friendly, familial environment where your skills sharpen.”
Hansen is likewise effusive about the quartet: “They are all exceptionally talented,” he says, adding, “I promise you no one could try that case better than they did.”
Despite all the talent, hard work and good will, everyone involved acknowledged that the trophy couldn’t have been won without the total support of UC Hastings itself.
“I can’t begin to convey how much support they gave us,” Hansen gushed. In addition to covering the expenses involved in a trip to New Orleans, enabling the team to participate, the school also provided two sign language interpreters well-versed in legal parlance to accompany them, because Worek is Deaf.
Everyone on the team downplayed Worek’s deafness, calling it a “non-issue,” but Hansen stressed that Worek’s accomplishment was all the more impressive because “Even with great interpreters, you lose a great deal of nuance in what is being said in the courtroom.”
But Worek said that having sign language as her first language actually had its advantages, particularly when it came to being self-conscious about body language.
“Some people need to spend a lot of time thinking about what their hands are doing while giving a speech, whereas my hands naturally illustrate as I speak.”
"Congratulations to Chelsea, Mira, Justin, and Hannah!" said Provost & Academic Dean Elizabeth L. Hillman. "This is the kind of team work and learning that makes law school such an exciting place, where students encounter new ideas, challenges, and people. Preparing students for practice, supporting students with disabilities, and finding great teachers and litigators like Geoff Hansen are all central to our mission at UC Hastings."
As for Hansen, he’s eager to do it all over again. “I never get tired of it,” he happily declared.
Try-outs for next year’s team take place early April. On average, about 80 students apply for the 8-10 available slots.