May 24, 2019
Law student Simone Leighty '20 in early June will vie for a winner-take-all $10,000 prize in the Top Gun National Mock Trial Competition at Baylor University School of Law.
Leighty, part of the Mock Trial Team at University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law and one of just 16 law students in the country invited to the competition, is looking to extend the team's very successful year.
"It was a year in which we just showed up (winning) everywhere," said Cary Bricker, the Mock Trial Program director and co-director of the Center for Advocacy and Dispute Resolution. McGeorge law students advanced beyond the preliminary round, won the entire competition or took home individual advocacy awards in eight of the nine mock trial competitions in which they took part. That success should come as little surprise since McGeorge's trial advocacy programs were ranked No. 7 in the nation in U.S. News and World Report's Best Law Schools ranking for 2019.
"Being chosen to represent McGeorge as one of 16 competitors in such a unique and prestigious tournament is an immense privilege," Leighty said. "The weight that honor holds is certainly not lost on me. I hope to make everyone proud."
The invitation-only Top Gun competition is June 5-9 with contenders selected based on the results of major national competitions. The contest poses different challenges than Leighty and her mock trial teammates have seen so far this year.
Unlike in other competitions, Top Gun contenders do not receive a case file until they arrive in Waco, Texas. They then have just 24 hours to go over hundreds of pages of depositions, records and photos, and make a site visit to where the case took place. Students then argue cases before state and federal judges with juries made up of trial lawyers and judges.
"It's really the toughest competition in the nation," Bricker said. Team coaches - many of them alumni working in criminal and civil litigation and themselves former "mock trial stars" - are a vital part of making McGeorge's Mock Trial Teams successful, she said.
"We took the country by storm because of our coaches, who made coaching Mock Trial Teams a second career, spending almost as much time in practices as they do at their day jobs," Bricker said. "And our students, who put it the same amount of time, checked their egos at the door and brought home very hefty hardware from all over the country."
Leighty's coach is Jason Schaff of Flesher, Schaff and Schroeder Inc., a Rocklin civil trial law firm that is also sponsoring the team by covering travel, lodging and food for Leighty, Schaff and a student coach. Bricker said Schaff and his law firm partner and fellow mock trial coach, Jacob Flesher, were "superstars" during their time as McGeorge students on the Mock Trial Team.
"Our coaches dedicate hundreds of hours throughout the school year, helping us transform into lawyers who can persuade through emotional appeal, storytelling and a strongly crafted case theory," Leighty said. "They turn us into advocates, which is everything you can hope for from a law school program as an aspiring trial attorney. I hope to emulate that kind of valuable mentorship as a coach once I graduate."
The experience helped Leighty to confirm her purpose.
"Mock trial is an incredible passion that has rewarded me with valuable oral advocacy skills and life-long friends and mentors," Leighty said. "And while it's humbling and exciting to bring home numerous trophies throughout the competition season, it's been even more rewarding knowing that I've chosen the right career path."