June 8, 2020
Simone Leighty ’20 knows being the top gun, especially in a place like Texas, is something very special.
“It feels surreal at times, but there was definitely a tremendous amount of work and support that went into earning that title,” said Leighty, a recent University of the Pacific McGeorge School alumna and champion of the 2020 Top Gun National Mock Trial Competition sponsored by Baylor University Law School. “Mostly I’m just very honored and grateful.”
It was the first Top Gun victory for a McGeorge student, but the second consecutive year that Leighty has been in the invitation-only mock trial competition pitting top law students from across the country in a head-to-head, winner-take-all tournament with a $10,000 prize. Each law student was given just 24 hours to prepare for a detailed and challenging case they argued before some of the most-accomplished and distinguished judges and trial lawyers in Texas.
It was also the country’s first-ever completely virtual mock trial competition.
“I was incredibly impressed with how seamlessly Baylor Law School transitioned to the virtual format,” said Leighty. “There were definitively challenges we had to learn to overcome, such as adapting a ‘courtroom presence’ to a virtual one, or ensuring our technology use was both smooth and helpful.”
The case the law students were given centered around a wrongful death suit filed by a parent against the high school varsity soccer team’s coach. Throughout the course of the tournament Leighty advocated for the defendant in one round and the plaintiff in the next, requiring her to deftly use what she learned at McGeorge.
“I’ve always known that my place in this legal field was being in front of a jury, and I knew McGeorge’s trial advocacy program would help me realize that calling,” she said. “I have felt nothing but support and encouragement from the wonderful staff and professors that work at McGeorge. Mostly, I’m thankful to the trial advocacy program directors, Professor Cary Bricker and Professor Jay Leach, along with the mock trial coaches who all have invested countless hours over the last two years molding me into the strongest advocate I can possibly be.”
For this competition, Jason Schaff ’06 was her coach and fellow McGeorge student Joshua White ’21 was her second chair, assisting her in the case. Schaff has been involved in McGeorge’s trial advocacy program for the past 16 years as a competitor and coach, and coached McGeorge teams the three times it was invited to the Top Gun event.
“The results this year are by far the program’s greatest victory,” Schaff said. “It could not have been accomplished without the tenacity and skill of Simone Leighty and her co-counsel, Joshua White.”
Leighty will use that tenacity and the skills she learned at McGeorge as a prosecutor once she takes the bar exam in September.
“I’ve secured a post-bar position at the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office, where I plan to use my voice to advocate for those who can’t speak for themselves,” she said. “Ultimately, I’m hoping to use my position to bring about justice and meaningful change.”
Future McGeorge law students would be well served to consider following Leighty’s path.
“To incoming students, I encourage you to participate in the first year mock trial and moot court competitions, take advantage of the resources at your disposal, and don’t forget to reach out for help,” she said.
And what advice would Leighty give herself as an incoming law student?
“Stay focused, stay driven and stay humble.”