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Greg Hillyer knew about Temple University’s legendary success in mock trial competitions. “It’s hard to miss all the trophies in the lobby,” he says. He hadn’t personally considered auditioning for the law school’s trial team before he got an invitation. As a fourth-year night student with a full-time job and a 50-minute commute to class, he had a pretty full dance card. But after winning an award in his trial advocacy course, he got a letter inviting him to try out. He encountered a small problem when he went to the office of Edward D. Ohlbaum, director of trial advocacy and clinical legal education: The letter was intended for day students only. “What I was told is that there’s no possible way you can be on the trial team because it demands such a time commitment,” Hillyer says. But he persevered, made it and joined the small group of students who are largely responsible for Temple’s reputation for having the best trial advocacy program in the country. Now he knows where the success comes from: overwork. “You end up spending as much time for the one credit you get for trial team as you do on the rest of your classes combined,” he says. Temple University’s James E. Beasley School of Law has been ranked No. 1 in trial advocacy by U.S. News & World Report three years running. It has won more national mock trial competitions since 1995 than any other school. And it has also won praise from law firms. When The National Law Journal asked firms to name the schools that have prepared their recently hired lawyers particularly well for trial work, Temple was at the top, with Harvard University. Many people believe that regional schools like Temple do a better job teaching trial advocacy than schools that rank higher in general reputation. Relatively obscure schools like Stetson University College of Law in Florida, William Mitchell College of Law in Minnesota and Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law in Alabama regularly do well in the national rankings and competitions. Like Temple, they have become competitive by cultivating talented people and working them hard. Hard work has been part of Temple’s tradition since it was founded to educate working people in 1884. Like Hillyer, nearly one-fourth of its law students attend the night program. BAD START But work alone isn’t always enough, as Ohlbaum discovered in 1987, when he coached the school’s first trial team. The team won the regionals and advanced to the nationals brimming with optimism. Three rounds and nine ballots later, it had failed to corral a single vote. He felt like a father who had sent his kid to the plate with a plastic bat. “It counts as one of the worst experiences of my life,” says the normally irrepressible Ohlbaum. “We were out-coached. We were out-prepared.” He was determined that it would never happen again. “So I did something that was very hard.” He stuck around and observed the top teams, asking their coaches lots of questions. They got better each year. In 1991 they made the final four. They were finalists in 1992 and 1993. In 1995, they won. Since then, they have won at least one national competition every year. Ohlbaum described his method in a 1993 Temple Law Review article. Every question must advance the case theory or you don’t ask it. The prerequisite is knowing a case inside and out. The team breaks it into “good facts” and “bad facts,” and devises ways to force bad facts to help its cause. Objections are opportunities, so they anticipate them and plan a response. The team splits in two for practices, meeting with coaches in twin “courtroom” classes in the law school’s basement. The four-hour sessions, two evenings and one weekend morning, expand drastically in the weeks before a competition. In rooms strewn with empty soup containers and soft pretzel wrappers, the critiques intensify and coaches obsess over comportment and gestures. Still, it’s not possible to prepare for every eventuality. In March 2000, Hillyer and his partner had won their semifinal match but were called back. A mathematical error had been discovered. After a two-hour break, they had to try the case all over. They lost to the eventual champions, 3 to 2. Kevin Toth, who graduated in 1998, fared better. He and his partner were semifinalists in 1997 and national champions the following year, when Toth was also named the competition’s best advocate. After graduation, Toth spent a year as a public defender before moving to the Philadelphia office of Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith. “The cases in the real world are not nearly as balanced as they are in the trial team world,” he has discovered. The real world is full of bad facts that no amount of preparation or skill can overcome. And he never has the time to prepare that he did in law school. But he says he prizes his school experience and has been a trial team coach the past three years. “You come out with pretty good instincts,” Toth says, “and having good instincts is really important when you’re a trial lawyer.” THE REST OF THE STUDENTS While the trial team of no more than 16 students pumps up Temple’s reputation, that leaves more than 1,000 law students who will never compete. No one is required to take trial advocacy. Yet 85 percent will take at least one course during their time at Temple, Ohlbaum says. The school offers three levels of trial instruction: a one-semester introductory course, a broader year-long course, and advanced classes for those who have taken at least one class. All the courses adopt the learning-by-doing approach popularized by the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), a not-for-profit organization initially funded by the American Bar Association, the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Associaiton of Trial Lawyers of America. Temple’s courses rely heavily on NITA’s instructional materials, which are primarily fictitious case files, complete with the documents. Interviews with several graduates who took a semester of the introductory course suggest that even a small dose can go a long way. Allison Colsey Eck, who graduated in 1999, says she forced herself to take the class “because I tend to be quiet and shy.” From her present vantage point in the New Jersey attorney general’s office, she says the course “was an invaluable preparation to being an attorney.” Esther R. Miller took the course for no better reason than it fit in her schedule. But she’s also glad she did, as were three other recent graduates. One critic, Jamie C. Ray, another 1999 graduate, wishes the course had given her a better sense of how to find experts and prepare exhibits. As managing attorney at the Center for Disability Law and Policy, she litigates regularly and feels the course sold her short. Last year, for the first time, students’ performances in the year-long course were videotaped, digitized and placed in a portal where students can access them from home computers or the library’s multimedia room. A teacher’s written critique accompanies each videostream, allowing students to read it while watching their performances. In the coming year, Cristi A. Charpentier, director of the trial advocacy programs, plans to tape two performances a semester, so that students can monitor their progress. Eventually, she hopes to make videos available on the Web, so that instructors from other schools can see what Temple is doing. Why do regional schools often outrank the nationals in trial advocacy? Many people believe it’s because the elites haven’t focused on trial skills and the regionals have filled the breach. That’s the opinion of Laurence M. Rose, NITA’s director of educational programs (and director of the litigation skills program at the University of Miami School of Law). Founded 30 years ago to provide lawyers the training they hadn’t received in law school, NITA “stimulated” some law schools to take the institute’s methods and materials and do the job themselves, Rose says. During the past 15 years, he reports, some schools have made great strides in the field, and the regionals have led the way. “The national schools secretly tell themselves that their job is to prepare the justices of the Supreme Court” and future law professors, opines Bernard L. Segal, director of the litigation program at Golden Gate University School of Law. As evidence, he cites a 1992 ABA task force led by former ABA President Robert MacCrate that criticized the absence of skills training in law schools. REGIONALS ARE DIFFERENT “The regional schools see their missions differently,” Segal continues. “They prepare lawyers to hit the ground running.” Segal says he has seen the disparity himself. A few years ago, Golden Gate took on Harvard in a mock trial competition and won. The next year they beat Yale. For the Harvards and the Yales, law review rules, with moot court trailing behind. But although the review may sharpen students’ research skills, it won’t teach them to try a case. Even at Temple, law review is the path of choice for many students. When a student asked Ohlbaum if he would be penalized for choosing trial team, Ohlbaum advised him to take law review if he was aiming for a big firm or a clerkship. Still, Ohlbaum is convinced his program is a resume builder. And his best evidence may be responses to the NLJ survey. Elaine Rinaldi, a hiring partner at Philadelphia’s Cozen O’Connor, a quarter of whose litigators come from Temple, wrote: “We aggressively recruit from Temple because we know we will find well-trained trial lawyers.” Likewise, Eric Kraeutler, who chairs the recruiting committee at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, says that 20 percent of its litigators in Philadelphia are Temple grads. “In general, the people we hire from Temple are bright, practical self-starters and they’re hard working.” Ohlbaum is proud of what his school has accomplished. “We’re not Yale. We’re not Penn. We’re not even Northwestern,” he acknowledges. “We’re not the bluebloods for whom everything comes easy.” But when they walk into competitions, he says, they can hear the respectful whispers: “That’s Temple.”

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