Top Ranked Trial Team Continues Winning Streak with 1st-Place Win at SFTLA

"Equal parts smart, compelling, and ethical.”

Continuing the College’s winning streak after being named the top trial team program in the U.S. by the interscholastic law school trial competitions, the Hastings mock-trial team took home another first place at the San Francisco Trial Lawyers Association (SFTLA) Mock Trial Competition on Saturday, Nov. 3.

“It feels really good to win and to keep up the winning tradition,” said 2L Mariah Ogden, who was competing for the first time in a mock trial competition. In addition to Ogden, 2Ls Erin Park and Ana Sanderson were also competing for the first time. Thomas Dal Pino, 3L, brought experience to the team and played the role of a mentor.

“My teammates are tremendously talented and proved time and time again how dedicated they were to the team and to their own success. I just tried to make getting ready for trial as easy as possible for them and help them shine in the courtroom,” Dal Pino said.

“SFTLA is a wonderful tournament, but the best part is that it’s judged by some of the best trial lawyers in the Bay Area,” Dal Pino said. “So, getting a chance to show our stuff in front of them is incredibly rewarding in and of itself – winning is just the icing on the cake.”

Hastings has competed in the SFTLA competitions for nearly 20 years. Students spend countless hours preparing for the local and fiercely-contested competition. Past participants say the competition serves as an excellent proving ground for future trial attorneys. This year, the fact pattern was a defamation case involving a bank employee who was fired for allegedly sexually harassing a younger female employee.

“Our squad of students went up against excellent teams from Stanford University and Golden Gate University. Our students’ dedication to learning the rules of evidence and honing their storytelling skills is what made the difference,” said Cliff Smoot ’15, an attorney at The Veen Firm, who volunteered his time to work with the trial team.

“The Trial Team’s winning record underscores the fact that UC Hastings has the best trial advocacy program on the market,” Smoot said. “I’m proud to be a graduate of the program–it’s given me a great foundation as a trial lawyer.”

The win solidifies the College’s reputation as the best trial team in the nation, a distinction it’s earned after having won the Triple Crown of Regional Competitions — the American Bar Association (ABA) Trial Advocacy Competition, the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) National Trial Competition, and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) — in the spring; the National Ethics Trial Competition in 2017; and 1st Place in the ABA Section of Labor and Employment Law’s Annual Law Student Trial Advocacy Competition in 2016, to name a few.

Geoffrey Hansen, professor and trial team head coach, has built the trial team program into a powerhouse.

“Professor Hansen has always emphasized teaching real-world trial skills,” Smoot said. “He demands that his students put on cases that are equal parts smart, compelling, and ethical.”

Still, Hansen attributes the College’s trial team success, in large part, to an “ever-increasing involvement and support of Trial Team alums and practicing friends of the team.” One such friend is Shanin Specter, a renowned trial attorney and professor of practice, who made a $1 million gift to the College to construct a trial courtroom in the new 198 McAllister Building. The gift and the resulting trial courtroom will play a vital role in the College extending its trial team success.

Now that the trial team has been ranked No.1 for the second year in a row, victories will be especially well-earned.

“This is a tough year for us because everyone is gunning for you when you’ve been ranked the top trial team in the country,” Hansen said. “But the SFTLA competition shows we are ready to take on that burden and continue our phenomenal success.”