Published May 14, 2020
We asked recent alumna, Caitlin O'Neil, about her law school Trial Team experience.
While in law school, Caitlin was active in a number of programs in the law school’s Advocacy Institute, and was selected to represent the school in moot court and trial team competitions. In addition, Caitlin served as an editor of the Buffalo Law Review, and was a member of the Buffalo Moot Court Board.
I wanted an experience that got me as close to litigation practice as possible while still providing the safety of a learning environment. I also wanted the opportunity to travel around the country meeting students from other schools and going head-to-head with them in competition. Plus, the trial team students I knew were motivating and inclusive, and always pushed me to be my best. It was a community I wanted to be a part of.
For me, it started by making the jump and reaching out to a law student and coach to sit down and discuss my interest. Then, I signed up for a try-out. The try-outs were on the weekend, and we prepared an opening statement and a cross examination. I had never done either before! I spent a lot of time researching on my own, which is helpful no matter how much experience you have.
It was an immensely positive experience for me. I got to practice the skills and rules I learned in my evidence class, which helped a ton for the bar exam. I also formed a lot of close personal relationships with my teammates and coaches. Looking back, being as busy as I was preparing for trial team helped with time management for other classes. Managing my time allowed me to be more productive during study sessions, and I made sure I was using my time in the most efficient way to get everything done.
My biggest surprise came after graduation when I began practicing at a litigation boutique law firm full of trial lawyers: real trials are actually very similar to what we did in trial team! There’s some significant differences, sure, but I felt confident when I got the chance as a new lawyer to do a direct examination and respond to objections before a real jury. As for in-school surprises, I think I was surprised at how much I was able to improve – and how much room I had to keep improving. There’s no ceiling to ability. It’s all about how hard you work (also helpful to understanding this is the fact that every good lawyer I know will say the same thing!). That realization allowed me to take my mistakes in stride and not take failure personally.
Yes! I’ve been coaching for a few years!
Similar to the try-out (and real life), there will be things that you don’t know and won’t have anyone around to ask. Trial team will allow you to practice your ability to try, fail, figure out what happened, and try again. It forces you to grow as a lawyer and to develop the grit that will form the foundation of success in practice. The good thing is, your success and your grade are determined by not by the final product, but by your hard work and dedication to improvement, and everyone else around you will be supporting you in the process. If you really want to be the best you can be – even if you don’t want to litigate – trial team is for you!