Students learn to control the courtroom from the pros

March 25, 2016 - Tamara Williams

Mock Trial Competition
Mock Trial Competition

The UNM Law team coaches (far left) Steve Scholl (’89) and (next) Andy Scholl (’11) with UNM Teams Cherry and Silver at the Region 10 Mock Trial Competition: Joshua Alt (’17), Best Advocate Award winner Tess Williams (’17), Jonathan Dominguez (’17), Meghan O’Neil (’17), Dominic Martinez (’17) and Dan Cornish (’16).

The six students knew the practice sessions and preparation for the Mock Trial Competition would be intense.

But they also knew that there would be a great payoff: Steve and Andy Scholl would train them to be trial lawyers, not mock trial competitors.

Steve Scholl (’89) is a trial attorney and has been coaching the class for 25 years. His son Andy (‘11) joined him as coach four years ago. Both participated in the mock trial competition as UNM Law School students and both won the regionals and went on to the nationals with their teammates.

In their class, the students build their cases – they try both the plaintiff’s and defendant’s side of the case on their own. That’s unlike most teams, where the coaches put the case together for the students.

In seven weeks, the UNM students tried the case over thirty times. The teams aren’t scripted, and no two trials are the same. 

“The questions are all spontaneous and emphasize looping information from earlier testimony,” says Steve.

Best Advocate Award

In this year’s Region 10 competition, held from February 18-21 at Oklahoma City University School of Law, all of the UNM Law students garnered praise and respect from the other teams. One UNM student stood out in particular: Tess Williams (’17) won the Best Advocate Award from among the 50 or so other competitors.

Mock Trial Competition

“The Region 10 judges loved the creativity, confidence and ability of the UNM students to be in the moment and not simply memorize a script as many others had,” says coach Andy Scholl.

“Tess has a command of the courtroom that garners respect and attention,” says Andy. “Another coach commented that he wanted to bottle up Tess’ confidence and give it to one of his competitors. She can be firm when needed, calm and compassionate when needed. She is a very effective advocate and with the combination of her smarts, natural talent and very hard work, it was no surprise that she earned the award.”

Steve adds, “Tess really found herself and set the bar for everyone around her.  She ‘owned’ the court room when she was working and inspired everyone.”

Andy says that all the judges “loved the creativity, confidence and ability of the UNM students to be in the moment and not simply memorize a script as many others had. This allowed the UNM teams to tailor their presentation to the specific case, highlighting the testimony that actually came out in trial.”

“The payoff for the students is never expected to be at the end of the weekend of competition, but at the beginning, middle and end of successful careers as trial lawyers,” says Steve.

Mock Trial Competition

Steve has been coaching the class for 25 years; Andy for four years.

Melissa Lobato, Director of Alumni Relations, has known the Scholl duo for a long time and greatly admires them. “Year after year, Steve and Andy have helped transform dozens of UNM Law students into strong advocates for their clients,” she says. “The Scholls’ commitment to students and the law school are beyond extraordinary.”

Over 30 trials with dozens of attorneys

The team members stand on the shoulders of many very good attorneys throughout New Mexico who have come through the mock trial program.

Each trial requires four witnesses and at least one judge. Dozens of UNM alumni participated; most of the guest judges are former mock trial members.

3L Dan Cornish participated in last year’s competition and coordinated all of the witnesses, judges and courtrooms this year. It was a huge dedication of his time, which Andy says speaks to the value of the experience.

“I really owe the award to Steve and Andy Scholl, as well as my teammates.

The camaraderie we all developed got us all through the long nights, and each member and coach was really dedicated to helping everyone learn and become more effective advocates.

It was in this environment that I was able to develop my advocacy skills, and I felt confident in my abilities and the abilities of my team going into the competition. I was incredibly honored to receive the award. I absolutely couldn't have exhibited the advocacy the judges saw without the support of my teammates and coaches! I am so grateful the law school offers the Mock Trial program, and I can't wait to go back and do it all again next year!”

- Tess Williams (’17), Winner of the Best Advocate Awards, Region 10

Dan says that the UNM Law School’s program is unique because of Steve and Andy.

“These former team members selflessly give their time to come work with the team and offer their suggestions on how to best present the case,” says Andy. “It is fun to see the relationships that current and past team members build.”

“As past team members can attest, it is really neat for these students to be told by the judges who have just watched their trials that they can come try a case with those seasoned lawyers any day, and for some of them to even offer jobs to the students they watched,” says Andy.

That’s the promised payoff: training to be trial lawyers. 

“The Mock Trial National Trial Competition was the best experience I had while in law school. The UNM Law School’s program is unique for two big reasons – Steve and Andy Scholl. While the majority of the other teams used scripts and tried the same case every time, we entered the courtroom armed not with notes, but with the skills learned from Steve and Andy; our metamorphosis into trial lawyers complete. These skills provide a rock-solid foundation for not only my career as a trial lawyer, but for the rest of my life. There is no better experience. ”

- Dan Cornish (‘16)