AAJ Student Trial Advocacy Competition winners Katrina Mavroudis, Rachel Holt, coach Abbie Heller, Kelsey Ashworth and Jill Schroeder.
The Kline School of Law trial team, made up of third-year law students Jill Schroeder, Kelsey Ashworth and Katrina Mavroudis and second-year Rachel Holt, won the national finals of the American Association for Justice (AAJ) Student Trial Advocacy Competition in New Orleans on April 3.
Fourteen teams from around the country had come to New Orleans for the championship, each having won their own regional competition. The tournament is based around a mock civil trial — each team was given the same 90-page case file in December and prepared for months to present the case for both the plaintiff and the defense. The Drexel team’s coaches, attorneys Abbie Heller ’14 and Carla Wasko ’12, selected Schroeder and Ashworth to represent the plaintiff’s side, and Mavroudis and Holt to represent the defense. By the time the national competition began on March 30, the Drexel team had argued the case several times from both sides.
Once in New Orleans, the Drexel team quickly noticed that they were the only team comprised solely of women.
“The law world is still pretty male-dominated,” Ashworth said. “We were met with a few teams that were…shocked that we were an all-female team, to say it politely.”
Over the four days of the competition, the Drexel team continued to impress the other teams as they won three preliminary rounds, one quarter final and one semi-final. On April 3, only one mock trial remained to decide the championship. Drexel was selected to represent the plaintiff, with Schroeder and Ashworth being the advocates. Mavroudis and Holt were performing as witnesses for the plaintiff. On the defense: Georgetown University. The pressure was on.
“We’ve done the case a bunch of times,” Ashworth said. “But there’s a different level of anxiety that comes from being in the final round of nationals.”
Schroeder, however, had zero nervousness going in. Even the final round curveball of a surprise witness couldn’t shake her. “We knew we could do it. We had done the regional, we had gotten this far in the competition. It was just a matter of doing our best and seeing how it turned up in the end.”
In the end, the Drexel team argued their way to the win. According to Schroeder, at least part of their win can be attributed to their personable style.
“The other team was very formal,” Schroeder said. “We connected on a level with jury members that the other team didn’t.”
That’s no accident. “Carla and I try to teach our team that a huge part of trial advocacy is learning how to be a human being in the courtroom instead of a robot,” Heller said. “If you're going to persuade anyone that your argument is the right one you have to connect to them on a very human level. They have to be able to trust what you’re saying not because you're the most formal person in the room, but because you're talking to them in a way that is relatable and makes the most sense based on their own experiences.”
The relatability of the Drexel team not only won over the judges, but also its fellow competitors. Many were impressed by the skill and confidence these four women showed over the competition.
“A number of people came up to us and said ‘we’re rooting for you,’” Ashworth said. “It was really cool to see the amount of support that we had as an all-female team in what is normally a male-dominated profession.”
“Since Drexel Law is such a new school, its awesome that we got to play a part in putting our name on the map,” Schroeder said.
As the national champions, the Drexel trial team will receive complimentary airfare, hotel accommodations and registration for the AAJ Annual Convention in Los Angeles. Additionally, each member of team will receive a $2,000 Stanley Preiser Law Student Award for Trial Advocacy presented by the Melvin M. Belli Society.