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Student Quartet Wins ABA Labor & Employment Trial Competition

By Andrew Cohen

A four-student team from Berkeley Law recently won a regional championship at the American Bar Association (ABA) Labor & Employment Trial Advocacy Competition. By prevailing in all of their mock trials at the federal district courthouse in San Francisco, James Perry ’11, Eric Neff ’12, Rachel Johnson ’12, and Vassi Iliadis ’13 advanced to the national finals in Los Angeles on January 29-30.

Coached by Carolyn Zabrycki ’08, the students defeated both teams they faced on the competition’s first day. The next day, Iliadis and Perry teamed up to win the semifinal round before Johnson and Neff won the final round. Each trial lasted three hours, with each team allowed 90 minutes followed by a half-hour of comments from the judges involved.

The ABA’s Section of Labor and Employment Law established the competition to introduce law students to the challenges and rewards of employment and labor litigation, and to give them an opportunity to develop their trial advocacy skills in a mock courtroom setting.

It marked the second major triumph of the school year for Berkeley Law’s Board of Advocates, a primarily student-run organization charged with overseeing the school’s internal and external skills competitions. Its membership includes more than 60 students who participate in both regional and national competitions in alternative dispute resolution, trial advocacy, and appellate advocacy.

In late October, the team of Suzanne Jaffe ’12, Inna Buschell ’12, Keydon Levy ’11, and Joe Goldstein-Breyer ’11—coached by Berkeley Law lecturer Bruce Budner—won the San Diego Defense Lawyers Trial Competition. It marked the second straight year that Berkeley Law defeated 19 other schools to win the event, which is hosted annually by the San Diego County Bar Association and features top law schools from around the country.

After the San Diego competition, the tournament hosts sent their judges an email praising Berkeley Law’s team and stating that the quality of its presentations was “so consistently high that it seems that they ought to be recorded, preserved, and used for educational purposes.”

The Board of Advocates prepares student teams through a fall lecture/workshop series developed by Stephanie Clark ’11 and Edward Piper ’12—co-student directors of the trial competitions—along with Budner and fellow coach Spencer Pahlke ’07. Next year the program will be formalized as a class co-taught by Budner and Pahlke.

“This year it consisted of five evenings, the first four dedicated to direct examination, cross examination, opening statement, closing statement, and evidence, and the last being a mock trial,” Pahlke says. “We spent about half of our time doing drills, and each class lasted two hours.”

Teams also immerse themselves in a rigorous preparation period for competition that lasts roughly six weeks. The students practice two to three times a week, and Pahlke notes that “as the competition approaches the students put in considerably more effort, often dedicating free time, late nights, and weekends to their preparation. Their commitment is absolutely remarkable.”