By Andrew Cohen
Berkeley Law’s recent performance at the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Mock Trial Northwest Regional in Seattle literally could not have gone better. Both student teams squared off in the final round, with Stephanie Clark ’11, Jerome Price ’11, Julia Mehlman ’12, and Jonah Lalas ’12 winning the championship.
The foursome of Kevin Budner ’12, Aubrie Dillon ’11, Kristen Corpion ’13, and Tatiana Cottam ’11 was the runner-up team. Spencer Pahlke ’07 coached the winning quartet, and Melinda Derish ’03 and Emily Wecht coached the second-place group. All three coaches work at Walkup Melodia Kelly & Schoenberger in San Francisco.
“Our students’ preparation shined through brilliantly,” Pahlke said. “They were informative and interesting in their opening statements, helped their witnesses be storytellers on direct examination, broke down the other side’s case on cross examination, and brought everything together during closing argument. It was a joy to watch.”
By winning the 16-team regional, Clark, Price, Mehlman, and Lalas advance to compete at nationals March 31-April 3 in Las Vegas. The event drew more than 200 teams from across the country, of which 14 advanced to nationals.
Each Berkeley Law team won its three preliminary-round trials and semifinal trial before facing each other in the final round—which was judged the presidents of Washington’s State Bar, Plaintiff’s Bar, and Defense Bar. Pahlke, who Lalas credits for “devoting countless hours to developing our trial advocacy program,” noted that the AAJ competition always presents students with a thorny problem.
“Last year, that meant fully understanding the proper care and treatment of coronary artery disease,” Pahlke said. “This year, it meant breaking down the physics behind a complicated collision involving a semi-truck and a small passenger car.”
Lalas explained that success “required doing a lot of algebra and really understanding the math.” At the same time, his team “had to figure out how to explain the math to a supposed jury in the simplest way possible.”
To prepare for the competition, Berkeley Law’s student teams spent dozens of hours breaking down the collision’s nuances. In doing so, they pored over more than 100 pages of witness depositions, exhibits, photographs, and math formulas.
That preparation also involved frequent strategy sessions to develop a coherent theme and theory of the case. The teams often went head-to-head against each other in the law school’s mock trial room while other Board of Advocates members observed from the jury box. “Their feedback was extremely helpful and a big key to our success,” he said.
Pahlke lauded the students for their diligent preparation. “I think the salient feature of our trial program is the singular dedication of our students,” he said. “Every team we have simply doesn’t rest until it’s comfortable trying the case forwards and backwards. This is a hallmark of success not only in mock trial, but also in the real world.”