A Favorable Judgment
To meet with success in trial competitions, a student attorney can’t act as the star of the show, says 2019 National Trial Competition regional champion Jake Hasson, JD ’19. It’s not like the movies—A Few Good Men, for example—where actors like Tom Cruise tear up the scenery with their portrayals of aggressive, hypercompetitive lawyers, he says.
Hasson and MacKenzie Mahoney, JD ’19, won the New England Regional Championship of the National Trial Competition last month in Portland, Maine, and Hasson walked away with the Best Advocate award. Judge Lance E. Walker of the U.S. District Court (Maine) judged the final round. The finals will be held in San Antonio, Texas, starting March 27.
The school’s trial advocacy program, which provides the underpinnings for success in the courtroom, placed 15th in the country in the U.S. News & World Report 2020 rankings guide and has been in the top 20 for four years running.
In preparing for the regional competition over many months, Hasson says he came to see that his single-mindedness was a distraction from the real goal at hand—communicating in a way that the judge and jury can appreciate and understand.
“If you’re focused on beating the other side, there’s a tendency to lose focus on your clients and telling their story,” he says. “If, as part of your defense, you make a police officer look bad so you can look like a genius, it’s grating for the jurors. You’ve lost track of the larger goal.”
Where should you look?
Mahoney says that all of the pre-competition practice allowed her to get comfortable with how best to handle evidence and the motions needed to keep bad evidence out of the proceeding. She also learned how to organize the facts of a case, the flow of a trial, details as basic as where to stand, and “when to just shut up and listen.”
Mahoney came to understand that “it’s your job to step up and make your question or argument known in a respectful way rather than hanging back.” She noted that a new practitioner might not know where to focus her attention. “When you’re raising objections, the person you should be looking at is the judge, not the opposing attorney.”
Hasson and Mahoney say that quality coaching helped put them at ease when they reached the courtroom, and a sense of comfort allowed them to avoid rushed or robotic delivery of their cases. Professor Timothy Wilton, Suffolk Law’s National Trial Team coach, prepared the students with the help of alumni Paul Caruso, JD ’07, Ben Duggan, JD ’12, and Luke Rosseel, JD ’14.
The students served as both defense and prosecution in different rounds of the competition. The fictional case they argued concerned a 21-year-old woman, who, after a long night of drinking and smoking marijuana, allegedly got behind the wheel of a car, with her boyfriend and her boyfriend’s 3-year-old daughter as passengers. When the driver fell asleep at the wheel and flipped the car, the boyfriend and the daughter were killed. The woman contended that her boyfriend was driving the car.
A tradition of victory
Victory at the regionals has become something of a tradition at Suffolk Law; the Law School’s teams have won the regionals of the National Trial Competition or the American Association for Justice Competition 29 times in the last 34 years.
After graduation, Hasson will work as a public defender in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mahoney is weighing her options. Both serve in the Law Schools top-20-ranked clinical program, the former in the Juvenile Defenders Clinic and the latter in the Health Law Clinic.
Suffolk Law is the only law school in the country to be ranked for four consecutive years among the top 20 in all four U.S. News legal skills specialties (trial advocacy, dispute resolution, clinics, and legal writing). Suffolk Law Dean Andrew Perlman argues that the school’s national recognition for legal skills training places it among the nation’s best for hands-on learning.