This past weekend, a team of Harvard Law students won first place at the Fourth National Puerto Rico Trial Advocacy Competition in San Juan. The “invitation only” competition was sponsored by the Inter-American University of Puerto Rico School of Law and held at the Old San Juan District Courthouse.
The HLS team, which advanced undefeated, consisted of 3Ls John Quinn, Julian Thompson, and Dominique Winters and 2L Nneka Ukpai. In addition to the overall win, Thompson won Best Cross-Examination and Best Closing Argument. Quinn earned a perfect score in the semi-final round.
The team owes a debt of gratitude to its esteemed coaches, Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) Deputy Director J. Soffiyah Elijah, and CJI Clinical Instructor Dehlia Umunna.
The fact pattern involved charges of bribery and perjury against a sitting judge. Ukpai and Winters represented the prosecution; Quinn and Thompson represented the defendant. The team began practicing in late September and met several times a week, including Saturdays and sessions that went past midnight.
Only teams that have won titles in past national competitions are invited to compete in the San Juan tournament. All eight teams participate in the initial rounds of trials. Judges and attorneys from around the country evaluate and score the competitors. The four teams with the highest scores advance to the semi-finals. Harvard defeated Stetson University in the semi-final round and went on to defeat defending champion, Barry University, in the six hour final round.
The team members are no strangers to national trial competitions. Last year, Thompson, Ukpai and Winters, along with David Knight ’09, won the national Black Law Students Association competition. In that same year Knight, Ukpai and Winters, along with Eli Schlam ’09, took second place in the national American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section’s trial competition in Chicago. All four team members earned perfect scores. These teams were also coached by Elijah and Umunna. The HLS trial team has an outstanding legacy of winning national trial competitions. The first victorious team included Professor Ronald Sullivan Jr. ’94, and Lecturer of Law Stephanie Robinson ’94. HLS last won the ABA competition in 2004 when team member Laura Ferry ’04 won Best Advocate.
The HLS trial team has been invited to return to San Juan next fall and to compete in the ABA tournament in Chicago this spring.