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Pandemic can’t stop mock trial team from winning brief-writing competition

May 28, 2020

Members of a mock trial team from University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law were both disappointed and elated after a competition was canceled because of COVID-19.

The displeasure came because the competition was upended by the pandemic and they wouldn’t be able to travel to Houston, Texas, to argue various sides of the case given them for the contest. The joy came when the four law students — Lucas Burr ’21, Rachel Pombo ’21, Yuliy Tsymbal ’21 and Rebekah Wrobleske ’20 — and their coaches and professors learned they had won the brief-writing portion of the South Texas Mock Trial Challenge sponsored by South Texas College of Law Houston.

“I couldn’t be more proud of our team,” said Jesse Saucedo ’11, who along with Heather Phillips coached the group. “We took a completely different approach this semester and it clearly paid off. This competition is unique in comparison to the other mock trial competitions we compete in across the nation. Where most competitions are entirely based upon oral advocacy, this competition has a writing component in addition to the oral advocacy components.”

The different approach called for one of the students to concentrate on researching and writing the brief — a important part of what attorneys do in advocating for their clients — while the other three helped with research, editing the brief and preparing to argue the case during the mock trial competition in Texas. Burr was tasked with writing the brief, while Pombo, Tsymbal and Wrobleske helped with research, brief editing and preparing arguments.

Word of the victory came not long before the law school learned it had tied for seventh in the American Bar Association Competition Championship, which goes to the law school earning the most points combined from all four ABA Law Student Division competitions in arbitration, negotiations, client counseling and moot court. What is even more impressive about McGeorge’s solid top-10 finish is that the law school fielded teams in just three of the competitions. McGeorge competition teams did well throughout the year despite the shortened season.

“Our school was on track to winning several competitions this year, all of which were of course cut short by the virus,” Tsymbal said. “To be able to offer some good news to the rest of our team and faculty in the midst of such a discouraging season was priceless.”

Teamwork was key to the approach.

“My main responsibility for this competition was giving the other team members as much time as possible to focus on prepping for the trial part of the competition,” Burr said. “I did this mainly by being the primary brief writer for the team, so I did the drafting and sent it off to the team for changes until we came to the final product.”

Burr said the team knew they had a strong brief, but still did not know how it would stack up against those of other law schools. Strong briefs can settle ties in the competition, he said, so there was a chance a strong brief could have propelled the team further in the competition.

“It feels great to have won,” Pombo said. “Obviously, it would have been more exciting to be down in Texas with my team to receive the award in person. And I wish we would have actually gotten to compete because I think we would have done very well. I am extremely proud of my team for the work we put in this semester and, despite not being able to go to the competition, am very thankful that I was placed on the South Texas team.”

Other team members agreed.

“My team and I were so encouraged and humbled by the news that we were selected for the best trial brief,” Tsymbal said. “We had put in countless hours of work to perfect that brief, even more than we may have spent on briefs for our legal writing classes, so we are very grateful to be rewarded in this way.”

Burr was a late add to the South Texas team, but didn’t waste time.

“I have to attribute our win to Lucas Burr,” Wrobleske said. “Although Yuliy, Rachel and I edited the brief, Lucas really carried the team. He was the one who wrote the whole thing and he was the one who brought home the trophy. I also want to give a huge shout out to Lucas because he was asked to join our mock trial team super last minute because we needed to fill the fourth spot on our South Texas team. He willingly joined, was an incredible team player and absolutely killed it on the brief. We wouldn’t have won without him.”

The law students each praised the work and determination of coaches Saucedo and Phillips.

“Doing mock trial has prepared me to be a trial attorney,” Wrobleske said. “I appreciate mock trial for the invaluable coaching I received. For my last two competitions, I had the privilege of being coached by Jesse Saucedo and Heather Phillips. Jesse and Heather invested so much time and effort in teaching me how to be a good litigator. They taught me how to argue evidence, courtroom presence and strategies.”

Tsymbal agreed.

“I cannot thank my coaches Jesse Saucedo and Heather Phillips enough,” she said. “They have worked tirelessly to fine-tune each of our skills and develop our abilities beyond what any of us believed we were capable of. They worked as hard as any of us. It was not unusual to find my coaches reviewing our work in the early hours of the morning when only students should have been awake. I credit most of my litigation development to their efforts. I am also very thankful for the Trial Advocacy program at McGeorge, run by Professor Cary Bricker and Professor Thomas J. Leach. They have been crucial to establishing the stellar program my team has enjoyed and benefited from.”

McGeorge’s advocacy program regularly ranks high nationally and last year U.S. News and World Report ranked it No. 9 in the country. Visit the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution webpages for more information on mock trial, moot trial and advocacy.

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