Advocacy in Action

Mock trial gives students valuable courtroom experience

By Patrica O’Dell

The nationally ranked advocacy program at the UMKC School of Law is quickly escalating its exposure and recognition with critical support from alumni donors.

The success of the UMKC School of Law Advocacy Program is enabling student teams to compete – and place – in national trial competitions. Three teams from the program advanced to national trial competitions last spring. Two teams ranked in the top four in the National Criminal Justice Trial Competition and the American Association of Justice competition. Additionally, the Trial Advocacy Program was ranked 21st in the nation in the 2018 U.S. News and World Report rankings.

While travel expenses can be significant, alumni donors have stepped up to contribute more than $600,000 in order to further the advocacy program’s success.

Rafe Foreman, Douglas R. Stripp Distinguished Professor of Law and Director of Advocacy, who has led the program since 2011, recognizes the significance of the donors’ support.

“It would be impossible to obtain national notoriety for our program and the law school without the generous support of our advocacy program donors. Their support has made a critical difference for our students and the program,” says Foreman.

These competitions are important vehicles for honing skills and gaining valuable exposure for the school. Several firms, including Davis, Bethune and Jones; Dollar, Burns and Becker; Langdon and Emison; and the Edgar Law Firm have contributed funds that are critical to students’ success by covering the expenses for scholarships, team travel, research and materials. UMKC alumnus, Scott Bethune (JD ’88), a partner at Davis, Bethune and Jones, is committed to the program and has been a leader in the effort to secure alumni support.

“I give back not just to see the program rise in the rankings, but as an alumnus, I’m committed to the program’s success. Many of the major trial lawyers in Kansas City are UMKC alums. I met my law partners and many of my life-long friends at UMKC. The school’s success makes me proud.”

Soon-to-be graduates are enthusiastic proponents of the program as well. Alison Stephens, whose team won the Denver American Association of Justice regional competition and placed in the top four teams in the nation, is confident the program has prepared her for the courtroom.

“There’s no question that the program has given me valuable perspective and experience in what’s expected in the professional world. This program taught me to prepare for trial, to cross examine a witness and give a closing argument. It taught me to think on my feet with objections. The amount I’ve grown since my first semester is night and day.”

Jackson Hobbs, who finished in the top eight of the recent National Trial Competition in Fort Worth, Texas, chose UMKC Law School primarily for the advocacy program.

“My dad is a trial lawyer and I’ve always known that’s what I wanted to do. I applied to a couple of schools, but the biggest reason I ended up at UMKC was because of the advocacy program. I got to know Professor Foreman from Continuing Legal Education courses as an undergrad at MU. That went a long way to help me figure out where I wanted to be for law school.”

Following graduation, Hobbs is staying in Kansas City as an associate with Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, whose recent merger makes it one of the largest law firms in the world. He feels the advocacy program gave him an edge.

“The advocacy program — through practice, competitions and externships  —really helped me be attuned to how the practice works. The Kansas City market has outstanding litigators and their involvement brings excitement and experience to the program. I knew the trial program at UMKC would be an excellent place to be.”

Professor Foreman knows his students are ready.

“We prepare trial ready advocates. Judges call me and lawyers tell me how well our graduates are doing in real cases in real courtrooms. That’s the true goal and mark of a good program. We are Advocacy in Action coming to a courtroom near you!”