By Andrew Cohen
Long, repetitive arguments do not generate success at mock trial or moot court events. But a long, repetitive list of achievements at those events—like what Berkeley Law produced during the 2016-17 school year—is what all advocacy competition programs hope to achieve.
An ever-expanding roster of student participants and volunteer coaches, many of them Berkeley Law alumni, continues to yield impressive results.
“The mentorship that we receive from our coaches is unparalleled,” said Dustin Vandenberg ’18. “Every single team member is brilliant and committed. I have had the privilege to work with some of the best trial advocates in the country and hone my skills at a variety of competitions in Seattle, Los Angeles, Waco, and Dallas.”
Vandenberg, Natalie Robinson ’18, and Brandon Hughes ’19 won their regional at the prestigious National Trial Competition (NTC). In the national finals, they advanced to the final four—out of more than 200 teams from around the country—losing narrowly in the semifinals to the eventual champion.
Their case involved a recycling company that was allegedly disposing of gasoline illegally on its property. The gasoline caused an explosion that seriously injured an employee, triggering criminal charges against the company and its CEO.
“This was the highest-stakes competition I’ve ever been in and one of the most rewarding experiences of my law school career so far,” Vandenberg said. “I’m excited that our entire NTC team was 2Ls and 1Ls, so there’s a good chance of Berkeley Law’s trial team coming back next year even stronger.”
Alameda County Public Defender Stephanie Clark ’11 and law firm partner Spencer Pahlke ’07, the school’s external trial competitions director, coached the team. Clark spent two or three nights a week and many weekends coordinating practice, providing feedback, reading materials, and giving comments to the students. She also accompanied the team to the regional and national trials.
“Our coaches were spectacular,” Vandenberg said, noting that the program has upwards of 20 coaches who are all practicing trial attorneys.
Next year, Vandenberg will co-chair the school’s Board of Advocates with Amanda Maya ’18, overseeing all of the advocacy programs (mock trial, moot court, international moot court, negotiations). That role includes securing travel funding, managing the tryout process, and planning events for the various teams.
Among the returning standouts: Anna Williams ’19, who teamed with Kristina Pham ’17 to win first place in advocacy at the International Academy of Dispute Resolution’s International Mediation Tournament.
That competition featured two separately judged disciplines, mediation and negotiation advocacy. Williams, Pham, Chelsea Turner ’17, and Kelsea Carlson ’18 all notched Top 10 individual honors.
“I entered law school knowing that I wanted to invest myself in learning skills that helped build relationships across lines of difference,” Williams said. “The Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) team offered just that—an opportunity to learn to negotiate, mediate, and be a part of a team full of wisdom and talent.”
The three rounds presented varying disputes at different litigation stages: a family law divorce and custody settlement, a wrongful death liability suit, and a property dispute. Participants did not know which client they would represent until an hour before each round began.
Berkeley Law sent two three-student teams; during each round two students worked together as negotiators while their teammate served as a mediator in a different room. “We had to quickly map out our client’s interests, bottom-lines, and non-negotiables,” Pham said.
Mediators were judged on how well they worked together with their co-mediator, listening skills, and ability to help advocates and clients see their cases’ strengths and weaknesses. Advocates and client teams were judged on case presentation, strength and weakness articulation, and ability to work with mediators toward an effective solution.
A director of the ADR/Negotiations program this year, Pham gleaned three tangible benefits as she embarks on her legal career.
“First, the team developed my negotiation and mediation skills so that I can confidently enter any future deal negotiation or mediation,” she said. “Second, I’ve greatly expanded my legal network across the country by traveling to various competitions and competing against other law schools. And third, most importantly, the mentorship on the team is invaluable; from the practitioner coaches to the support from fellow team members.”
Other notable accomplishments
The team of LL.M. students Luisa Domenichini ’17, Louise Mercier ’17, and Guillermo Moreno ’17 won the European Wine Law Moot Court event.
Becky Morris ’18 and Hani Bashour ’17 were regional champions of the Giles Sutherland Rich Patent Law Moot Court Competition.
Bilal Malik ’17, Chelsea Turner, and Madison Goorman ’18 won a regional first-place award for their drafting skills at the IP LawMeet.
Kesley Quigey ’17 was named best oral advocate in Berkeley Law’s region of the National Moot Court Competition and reached the regional semifinals with Jamila Williams ’18.
Emily Renda ’18, Daniel Lopez ’18, and Alex Trabolsi were semifinalists at the National Environmental Law Moot Court Competition, with Renda and Trabosli earning best oralist awards.
Yasmine Tager ’19 and classmate Michael Riggins ’19 took second place at the ABA Representation in Mediation Competition.
Samya Abdela ’18 and Alex Williamson ’18 took third place at the ABA Negotiations Competition.