The Rutgers Law School Moot Court Board National Trial Team in Newark beat several of the best law school trial teams in the country to win the elite invitational Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition, held in mid-April.
All four team members—Pierre Avalos RLAW ’21, Andy Amakihe RLAW ’21, Jared Hotchkiss RLAW ’21, and George Morton RLAW ‘22—were recognized for having perfect scores for witness examinations during the virtual competition. Avalos also won the Best Advocate Award, and Hotchkiss won Best Cross Examiner.
The Rutgers Law team beat Baylor University School of Law to win the competition, besting a team that U.S. News & World Report ranked second in the nation for Trial Advocacy. The Rutgers team competed in three preliminary rounds before making it to the final competition and was seeded first among the final four teams that advanced to the semi-final round, defeating powerhouse schools that included Stetson University College of Law (which was ranked first nationally by U.S. News) Fordham University School of Law, University of Miami School of Law, University of Houston Law Center, University of South Carolina School of Law. Rutgers beat American University Law School to make it to the final round.
“Our National Trial Team continues to raise Rutgers Law’s national profile for mock trial competitions,” said Associate Dean Andrew Rossner, the team’s coach and faculty advisor to the Moot Court Board. “We should be extraordinarily proud of their achievement. They represented Rutgers well.” Ford Livengood also helps coach the team.
The victory in the Puerto Rican competition was just the latest in a record of achievement for the trial team over the past few years. In 2016, the Rutgers team won the New York Regionals of the ABA National Mock Trial Competition and went on to finish as semifinalists in the 2017 National rounds of the ABA National Mock Trial Competition. The team also placed as semifinalists in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 New York Regionals of the ABA National Mock Trial Competition and the 2018 Queens District Attorney Invitational Mock Trial Competition, as well as finishing third place in the 2019 Queens District Attorney Invitational and as semifinalists in the 2019 ABA invitational Criminal Mock Trial Competition in Chicago. In 2018, the team earned a quarter-finalist position in that competition.
"Rutgers Law continues to be proud of our National Trial Team and congratulates them on their recent victory in the Puerto Rico competition," said Co-Dean David Lopez. "They have worked hard and shown tremendous skills and represent the best of what Rutgers Law has to offer."
“Competing in this tournament and being on this team has only reinforced to me the notion that collaboration, repetition, and good camaraderie can lead to success,” said Amakihe. “Winning the tournament was great, but seeing the level of growth my teammates and I have shown over the course of this year training for these competitions has been outstanding. This will definitely be one of my best memories from law school.”
Based upon Rutgers’ successes in the past five years, it was one of only 14 teams nationally to be invited to this elite invitational competition. Competition teams had to try both sides of criminal case involving charges against a state senator who is alleged to have taken a bribe in exchange for using influence to obtain a government benefit for a constituent in an undercover sting, while the senator maintained the payment was a legitimate campaign contribution.
“The 2021 Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition was the thrilling culmination of my trial team experience. The weight of the moment really cleared my mind. Like in my trial team training, I was forced to think on the spot while contending with uncooperative witnesses, competing theories, and the rules of evidence,” said Avalos.
The Newark National Trial Team represents Rutgers Law in Regional and National Mock Trial Competitions. Six years ago, we restructured the program to make Rutgers Law even more competitive in national competitions and to provide students class credit for their participation.
Team members are chosen through a competitive process. Once selected, trial team members develop mastery of trial advocacy skills through a structured program which includes a National Team Mastering Trial Advocacy I Class [2 credits], Evidence [4 credits], National Team Mastering Trial Advocacy II Class [2 credits], a rigorous schedule of team practices with individualized feedback, and then competing.
Hotchkiss said, “The coaches have done a great job instilling their values into the team and the team in turn has done a great job in representing both our coaches and the school. Though sometimes, most of the time, I felt like I was focusing more on the team than I was on my classes, I wouldn't change a thing. The team - if you give it your all - makes you a better student, a better advocate, and a better person.”