Law Students Coach Undergraduate Trial Team to Victory
Reprinted from the Virginia Law Weekly
Last year, the Virginia Law Weekly reported on something that had happened for the first time in history: a UVA Law student coached a team of undergraduates to a national title in trial advocacy. This year, it got even better.
For the second consecutive year, UVA's undergraduate Mock Trial team won the American Mock Trial Association's National Championship Tournament, defeating Harvard University in the first final-round rematch in the history of the competition. The repeat national championship is one of only four in 23 years of undergraduate mock trial.
The team, coached last year by current head coach, second-year Ryan Faulconer, got some reinforcements this year in first-year Benjamin Sachs, a member of last year's championship team as an undergraduate, and Professor Toby Heytens, a two-time All-American in the activity.
"Both Professor Heytens and [Sachs] were key to our success," said Faulconer. "It's hard to imagine an improvement over a National Championship, but this year was a tremendous step up from last year. It was absolutely a result of them being added to the mix."
Collegiate mock trial involves more than 500 teams that compete nationwide throughout the year at invitational tournaments. The National Championship Tournament, held April 13â15 in St. Petersburg, Florida, included the 64 teams that had emerged from a rigorous regional qualifying process. Those teams were split into two divisions at Nationals, and the winner of each division faced off in the final round.
In addition to the repeat national title, UVA also accomplished something that had never been done in school history: its second team, including six first-year competitors, placed in a tie for fifth place within the same division as the UVA team that won the championship. Had the second team won four more points (out of a possible 140) on a ballot in one round, UVA would have placed first and second in its 32-team division.
"I have been involved in this activity for ten years," said Heytens. "I can say that the UVA teams that competed at Nationals are the best two I have ever seen."
Heytens called the program's season this year, with a total record of 99-14-2 and victories at six out of eight tournaments attended, "almost certainly the most impressive single-season performance in the 23-year history of collegiate mock trial."
This year's case, Jeffries v. Polk County Police Department, was a Section 1983 claim brought by the parents of a child who fell into a coma after being shot by one of the department's officers.
In addition to help from Faulconer, Heytens, and Sachs, the team was also coached this year by Samantha Bateman (UVA '06) and Rakesh Kilaru, two former All-Americans who live in Washington, D.C.
"Having Professor Heytens, [Faulconer, and Sachs] guide us to our second National Championship was crucial," said third-year undergraduate Jamar Walker, an attorney on both championship teams. "Had it not been for their hard work, dedication, and the dedication of our other coaches [Bateman and Kilaru], I can assure you that our success would not have been possible. We are forever in their debt."
"We love these students," said Faulconer. "During the year, the group becomes a family, and I can't imagine being at UVA Law without them."