For third time in school history, both National Trial Teams win regional trial competition, advance to nationals

Photo of the members of the two regional winning National Trial Teams heading to Nationals in April 2018.

Wake Forest University School of Law National Trial Team competitors and coaches are continuing a record-breaking streak by sending not one, but two teams to nationals after winning the regional TYLA National Trial Competition (NTC) on Feb. 16-18.

Hosted by Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wake Forest’s National Trial Teams advanced to the two championship rounds against the University of North Carolina (UNC) and Emory University law schools, and both came out victorious, says Coach Mark Boynton (JD ’97).

The regional champions on “Team McDazzle” are Zach McCamey (JD ’18), Virginia Stanton (JD ’19), Joe Karam (JD ’18) and alternate Nick Bedo (JD ’18); and on “Team Mama Bear” are Tracea Rice (JD ’19), Darius Lamonte (JD ’19), Jonathon Salmons (JD ’17) and alternate Le’Ron Byrd (JD ’19). Rice and McCamey also won Best Advocate in their respective championship rounds. Rice was the third highest-scored advocate out of more than 100 competitors, Boynton said.

“All represented Wake Forest School of Law superbly,” added Boynton, a litigator at Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP. ”Wake Forest teams faced and defeated teams from the University of South Carolina and University of Georgia in the semi-finals, receiving glowing praise for advocacy and professionalism from all scoring judges. Wake Forest then faced and defeated UNC-Chapel Hill and Emory University in the two championship rounds held before panels of scoring judges and Superior Court Judge Bryan Collins and Judge Paul Ridgeway, presiding. Each presiding judge sought me out personally to tell me how impressed they were with our students’ acumen, performance ability and stellar advocacy. Judge Collins announced from the bench that Ms. Rice’s closing was in the Top 10 he had ever heard as a sitting trial judge. Wake Forest did not merely win; Wake Forest dominated!”

As a result, the two teams move on to compete at the TYLA nationals April 4-8 in Austin, Texas.

This is the fourth year in a row that Wake Forest School of Law has sent a team from the regional competition to nationals, but it is only the third time in the law school’s history that it has sent two teams, says Dean Suzanne Reynolds (JD ’77). The other two years were 1989 and 1999.

“These teams were all about record-breaking,” Dean Reynolds said. “I know the team would want me to give a shout out to two of our generous and gifted alumni, Coach Mark Boynton (JD ’97) and the newest member of the coaching team, Aindrea Pledger (JD ’10). These two brilliant trial lawyers devoted hundreds of hours and their consummate skills and instincts to our talented teams. I’m in awe of our students and their coaches.”

Boynton continued, “In our NTC format, the participating law schools are divided into 14 regions, we are in Region 5. Each school may enter two teams. Two regional champions advance from each region to the nationals. Wake Forest joined 11 other schools in the region, 22 total teams. After three preliminary rounds, the field is cut brutally down to eight teams into two semi-final brackets. Wake Forest was the only school to have both of its teams make that cut.

“A team must be exceptional to make the first cut to eight semi-finalists; to have two teams do it together, while not unprecedented, is truly impressive. For both teams to then to go on to become champions is so rare that is has not been done in our region in more than a decade, Wake Forest last did it in 1999.

“Wake Forest National Trial Team has won its Regional Championship in eight out of the past 10 years.  We had both teams advance to the regional semi-finals the past three years consecutively. At Nationals we have made the quarter finals, I believe, six times since 1989 and in 1999 two Wake Forest teams won the region and advanced to the national semi-finals. Due to the combined success of the trial teams in recent years, and most especially the AAJ National Championship, Wake Forest has been invited to the National Tournament of Champions for the past two years, and we hope to be invited again in the fall of 2018.”

Boynton, who is the Trial Teams coordinator, also works with Matt Breeding (JD ’06), coach of the AAJ Trial Team, and Professor Carol Anderson, director of the Litigation Externship Clinic.

“Lastly, but so far from least, I must note that we have built our success on a foundation of excellence,” Boynton explained. “The bricks come from our award-winning trial ad training, headed by Professor Anderson, and the skills the students learn from the Litigation Clinic and the Trial Practice classes.  The mortar comes from our National Trial Team alumni; their perennial, selfless donations of time and experience to help our students by coming to judge rounds, meeting with them to run trial parts, and more.”

Boynton continued, “I am tough on the students. They came back early from Winter Break and have sacrificed 25-plus hours a week to prepare. They fought with confident ferocity and calm precision while always maintaining the highest level of genuine collegiality and professionalism, those things that have become the hallmarks of Wake Forest trial teams; those things that, when combined, strike fear in the hearts of our opponents. Yet what impressed me most, and touched me most, is the way these students from such disparate paths came together like a platoon; like a family. They care for and take care of each other. I firmly believe that makes a difference.”

Boynton added, “We are the only school to have both teams in the semis this year.  To get both teams to the finals and to prevail in our region against those schools, is nothing less than astounding. AAJ and NTT have been doing this now for consecutive years.  These students sacrifice so much to devote themselves to classes, trial team, each other and not much more. The coaches give literally hundreds of hours, and those hours are not just teaching in the courtroom.

“I am so deeply proud of our team and these students, but also of our history. All evening, all morning, I have received emails and texts from Trial Team alums (AAJ and NTT) cheering for their team. Wake Forest has something very special going on. We are forging trial lawyers here. It is not a light task and it is not for the timid or the lazy. Every one of these students could try a case in court right now and do so with superb skill in advocacy, with command of the rules of procedure and evidence. That makes them powerful, confident, and, most importantly in this time, employable!”

The Wake Forest National Trial Team competes in one of the two premier national mock trial competitions annually.  Its particular National Trial Competition (NTC) is organized by the American College of Trial Lawyers together with the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA). The AAJ Team competes in the Student Trial Advocacy Competition (STAC) run by the American Association for Justice (AAJ).

Boynton gave much credit to the teams’ success to everyone who has helped contribute.

“People like Judge David Hall (former competitor and coach), Judge Stuart Albright (former competitor), Steve Berlin (former coach), ADA Stephanie Reese (former competitor and coach) make up a mere handful of the army of devoted alums on whose shoulders we stand every year.  Together with Matt and Aindrea, with the help of recently retired coach Stephanie, I feel that we built in the last three years a truly collaborative and integrated trial team program that has now reaped unprecedented success when looking at the total regional dominance in the past decade by the National Trial Team and the first-ever national championship that Matt and his amazing team won in 2017.  The schools in our region respect our trial teams, but as demonstrated by the flood of congratulatory notes I have received from other coaches and this year’s host, they hold genuine admiration for us as an opponent. That kind of admiration for an adversary grows only from the honor, grace and professionalism our students, our program and our law school emanate.”

Associate Dean of Administrative and Student Services Ann Gibbs added her support. “Congratulations to each of you on this amazing accomplishment. What a tradition that you continue for Wake Forest Law! I know that these ‘wins’ don’t come without lots of time, effort, passion and major personal sacrifice. I’m thrilled that your talent, skills and hard work came together for you and your wonderful coaches this weekend. We look forward to Nationals.”