When UCLA Law’s A. Barry Cappello Trial Team completed its rise to rank as the No. 1 trial advocacy team in the nation in September, the moment was but the latest achievement for a program that has, in just a few years, turned UCLA Law into a prime destination for students who aim to excel in practice as courtroom advocates.
Thanks to the dedication and engagement of distinguished alumnus A. Barry Cappello ’65 – one of the nation’s leading trial lawyers and managing partner of the Santa Barbara-based law firm Cappello & Noël – UCLA Law established the A. Barry Cappello Program in Trial Advocacy in 2017, and success came quickly.
In 2018, Justin Bernstein, an experienced litigator who specializes in teaching trial advocacy, joined the program as its director. That year, nine members of the graduating class earned inaugural Cappello Certificates in Trial Advocacy, which go to students who master a curriculum based on courtroom excellence. And by 2019, every member of the program’s graduating class had secured a full-time job in a position that required a J.D. degree before commencement.
“I grew up always wanting to be a trial lawyer. I went to UCLA law school, but there was no trial advocacy program. Of course, that training took place in ‘on-the-job experience,’ and I was focused enough to choose government law positions, where I learned,” explains Cappello, whose $2.75 million in total gifts to UCLA Law also created in 2006 the Cappello Courtroom, which has hosted federal appeals court hearings, and the Cappello Courtroom Series: The Art of the Trial lectures featuring Cappello and eminent courtroom advocates. “Since giving back has been an important part of my life, when the time came and I could devote significant resources to my desire to see my law school, UCLA, focus on trial advocacy, I was happy to do it.”
As the program expanded and became a magnet for future courtroom advocates, the Cappello Trial Team – which represents UCLA Law at a wide array of trial advocacy competitions nationwide and is coached by Bernstein, alumni and other leading attorneys with top firms and the U.S. Department of Justice – earned strong results at many national tournaments. Since Bernstein’s arrival, the Cappello Team has entered 17 trial competitions, reaching the playoff rounds in 16, the finals in 11 and first place in six, most recently the Summit Cup, which UCLA Law won to start its season in October.
“I’ve made my best friends here through mock trial,” says Jack Eyers ’21, the 3L president of the Cappello Trial Team. “I’ve learned strategies and tactics that will benefit my career for years to come, I’ve become a better writer and orator, and at the end of the day, I’ve been able to set myself apart due to the success of the team.”
Now, the team is No. 1 in the prestigious Trial Competition Performance Rankings, an objective measure of success in interscholastic competitions that tracks the more than 160 law schools that regularly participate in trial advocacy tournaments. “Our students are phenomenal,” Bernstein says. “They are ready to step into a courtroom the moment they graduate.”
Thanks to UCLA Law’s expanded trial advocacy course offerings, that’s true now more than ever. Under the leadership of Bernstein, Assistant Dean for Experiential Education Allison Korn, and Professor of Practice Eileen Scallen, the law school has since 2018 added two sections of introductory trial advocacy classes, as well as Advanced Trial Advocacy, Advanced Criminal Advocacy, Advanced Evidentiary Objections, and Trial Practice.
UCLA Law also offers scholarships that attract many of the most promising students who are interested in trial advocacy. “I chose UCLA Law largely due to the quality and prestige of the Cappello Program,” says Enrico Trevisani ’22, a Cappello Scholar. “As someone who dreams of one day working as a trial attorney, I wanted a law school that would help me build the skills I need in the courtroom, and choosing UCLA has allowed me to focus heavily on trial advocacy.”
The results are impressive. “My participation on UCLA’s trial team secured me an offer at one of the top trial firms in the world,” says Delaney Gold-Diamond ’21, who is set to work at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and in a Ninth Circuit clerkship after graduation. “Our success at tournaments assures me that I could stand up in court and make a winning argument my very first day as a lawyer. The teammates and coaches I’ve worked with will be my colleagues, friends and part of my professional network for life. The trial team has done nothing less than build the foundations for my legal career.”
The Cappello Program has also assumed a national leadership role. It has served as a host of national mock-trial competitions for undergraduate students. And when the coronavirus pandemic bore down in the spring, Bernstein and his students collaborated with colleagues at Fordham Law to present the first-ever National Online Trial Advocacy Competition, which played out virtually over several weeks in March and April. The first-of-its-kind tournament included 170 student participants from 67 law schools and more than 400 lawyers from across the country who served as judges.
“When the current program was devised and set up with Dean Mnookin, and we set out to fund a highly successful program, never did we dream that UCLA Law could reach the very heights it did so quickly. So it took a motivated alum, a dedicated dean, a superb director of the program and brilliant, dedicated law students to make it No. 1,” Cappello says. “If these students take their experience and their love of the practice, the benefits to the practice with be immeasurable but obvious. With better trial practitioners, a more efficient justice system will result, and justice will be better served.”