Over the weekend of January 30 to February 1, two teams from The University of Tulsa College of Law competed in the Region 11 heat of the Regional 2020 National Trial Competition (NTC). One of the TU Law teams – comprised of 3L students Caleb Beacham, Brian Deer and Tim Schaefer – emerged victorious. Along with a team from the University of North Texas at Dallas College of Law, they will advance to the national competition in Fort Worth, Texas, this coming April. TU Law 2L students (and best friends) Ashley Vinson and Valeria Rivera also formed a team and delivered additional high-quality representation for the college.
The NTC is co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and the Texas Young Lawyers Association. TU Law hosted this year’s regional NTC showdown, which brought together 24 teams from 12 law schools in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, northern Arkansas and northern Texas.
The TU Law students who competed had spent nearly a year preparing for the event. All of them had also completed a special trial skills course. Getting involved in moot court competitions, such as the regional NTC, “gives law students an opportunity to sharpen their oral skills and to receive feedback from experienced attorneys and judges,” said Professor Evelyn Hutchison, the coordinator of the regional NTC event and the director of legal writing at TU Law.
Prepared for practice
One of the members of TU’s winning team, Caleb Beacham, moved to Tulsa from Texas with his wife and children in order to attend TU Law. During his time as a student, he has interned with the district attorneys in both Tulsa County and, back home in Texas, Tarrant County. For Beacham, who is aiming at a career in criminal law, “the most rewarding aspect of participating in NTC is knowing I am more prepared for actual practice after graduation. It’s terrific working with a group of great people all focused on the same goal. And, of course, winning for the home team is nice!”
After he graduates in May, Tim Schaefer, who is from Tulsa, intends to work as an attorney advisor to judges in the Executive Office for Immigration Review. His comments echoed and expanded on his teammate Beacham’s thoughts: “The biggest benefit for me of participating in NTC was getting to practice applying what I’ve learned in law school in the closest thing we can get to a real-world experience. It’s one thing to be able to pass a test on evidence, but an entirely different matter to be able to recognize issues mid-trial, construct an argument on the spot and intelligently argue your point in a persuasive way.”
The third member of the winning crew is Brian Deer. Before law school, Deer taught philosophy at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. In Deer’s view, “NTC gives a law student a way to learn practice skills that are otherwise inaccessible until after graduation. Trials are not easy, but the NTC gives you direct experience in trial practice.” Gazing towards life after law school, Deer, who focuses on criminal defense and civil litigation, added that NTC enables emerging legal professionals “to demonstrate what they are capable of, thereby allowing potential employers to ‘see the goods.’”
Hard work that pays off
For all five of the TU Law students who competed in the regional NTC, the road to the Tulsa Courthouse was paved with tremendous effort. “We practiced every other day for hours at a time, and I’d spend at least four hours a day preparing opening/closing arguments as well as direct and cross-examination questions,” said Ashley Vinson. In the end, however, it was all worth it, as “the most fulfilling aspect of the NTC experience was seeing how much our hard work paid off.” Her teammate Valeria Rivera concurred: “This was the hardest thing I have had to do in my entire life, but this was also the most rewarding experience I’ve ever had.”
As they prepared, both teams received expert coaching from Tulsa lawyer Pansy Moore-Shrier, herself a TU Law alumna (JD ’04). “Our coach strengthened our advocacy skills by helping us think about the theories informing our cases,” noted Rivera. “She also trained us to make our opening statements and closing arguments more persuasive and appealing to jurors, and how to formulate impactful questions.”
Moore-Shrier was duly impressed by the five competitors’ dedication: “These students worked incredibly hard and made a lot of personal sacrifices to devote time to prepare for the competition. Their attention to detail, work ethic and resilience is remarkable. They will all be exceptional lawyers; they are already exceptional people. I am very proud of them.”
A community effort
One of the several remarkable things about the regional competition was the participation of over 200 attorneys and judges from Tulsa’s legal community who volunteered their time to serve as judges, witnesses and bailiffs. Faculty, students and staff from TU Law also served as witnesses and bailiffs and provided support behind the scenes to make this event a success.
Further evidence of the community nature of the Regional 2020 NTC was the generous support of several Tulsa law firms. Brewster & De Angelis sponsored a Friday reception for the participants and coaches; GableGotwals sponsored lunch during the competition; and the law firms Richards & Connor, Rhodes Hieronymus, and Secrest Hill Butler Secrest sponsored the NTC hospitality suites.
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