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Trial Team Racks Up the Wins, Imparts Invaluable Skills

Beatrice Shaffer Beatrice Shaffer, JD ’24

June 01, 2023

Drexel Kline Law’s trial team has been racking up the wins, and transforming students’ lives in the process.

“Trial team is my favorite part of law school,” says team member Clarke Doig, JD ’24, “and it allows me to practice my trial advocacy skills, and meet so many people outside the school–and my best friends in law school.” 

Doig and his teammate, Beatrice Schaffer, JD ’23, won the 2023 Amicus Cup in Las Vegas in April. Competing against 11 other schools from around the country, they did not lose a trial throughout the tournament. “The playoffs were a lot of fun,” Doig says. “We had an exceptional run, shutting out every team we played against until the finals, where we also won.”

‘A really good year’

Jenn DeLongis
Jenn DeLongis, JD ’23

The win in Las Vegas was just the latest for Drexel Kline Law’s accomplished trial team. “We’ve had a really good year,” says Phil Pasquarello, JD ’18, the school’s trial competition director and a trial attorney at Kline & Specter. 

Pasquarello oversees the law school’s external trial competition teams—of which there are six to nine each semester. He coaches several of the teams and recruits and oversees a coaching staff of eight to 10. He also runs the two to three external competitions the school hosts each year.

Of the seven competition teams fielded by the school this spring, five reached tournament finals–thought to be a record for championship trials in a single semester at the school.

In addition to the Las Vegas win, accomplishments this semester have included the following.

Niayla-dia Murray
Niayla-dia Murray, JD ’23

The team won their region of the American Association for Justice’s Student Trial Advocacy Competition, March 2-5. The tournament was held via Zoom and featured some of the top trial advocacy schools in the Northeast. The team went undefeated throughout the tournament, and the win earned them a bid to the national competition in New Orleans, held March 30-April 2. Team members included Niayla-dia Murray, JD ’23, Jenn DeLongis, JD ’23, Deeksha Walia, JD ’24, and Habiba Cheema, JD ’24.

“To capture the regional championship in my last semester of law school and in my last opportunity to do so was validating,” says Murray. “Making it to nationals is an exhilarating experience! As an all-female team, with so much diversity between members, coached by only women as well, it feels powerful.

“Trial team for me is a way to hone the practical skills you can develop as an attorney, that most classes will not teach you. Knowing substantive law is just as important as knowing the skills to apply said law. I walk into every trial competition I have participated in so far with the mindset to have fun, first and foremost, and develop myself further as a future attorney.”

Drexel Kline Law also finished second at the Eighth Annual Queens District Attorney’s Office Mock Trial Competition, March 3-5. The tournament was hosted and judged by the Queens District Attorney’s Office. The tournament is a 2L-only competition. The team included Boarder Tsai, Clarke Doig, Deniz Tunceli and Peter Gaynor. Gaynor won Best Advocate in the Championship Trial, and Clarke Doig won Best Overall Advocate of the tournament.

Boarder Tsai, Peter Gaynor and Deniz Tunceli
From left: Boarder Tsai, JD ’24, Peter Gaynor, JD ’24, and Deniz Tunceli, JD ’24

When Tsai entered law school, he knew he wanted to be part of trial team. “My best friends from law school are all on the trial team, and my involvement with the team is one of the things that makes me glad to be at Drexel Kline,” he says. “Apart from good times and close friends, trial team has really helped solidify the foundation for trial advocacy I plan to use in the future. From researching and writing cases to strategizing on what evidentiary issues will arise, I feel that the trial team has given me the advocacy skills that I will continue to develop and build upon in the rest of my career.”

On February 13, two Drexel Kline Law teams finished in second place in the Texas Young Lawyers National Trial Competition. Drexel Kline Law co-hosted the tournament with Villanova University’s Charles Widger School of Law. Team 1 consisted of Tsai, Tunceli and Gaynor; Team 2, Doig and Schaffer.

Schaffer had no mock trial experience before trying out for the team on a whim during her first year of law school. “Being on the trial team has been an experience like no other,” she says. “It has helped me polish my public speaking skills, think quickly and critically, and learn the unspoken customs of the courtroom. It’s introduced me to some great friends and fabulous teammates. I’ve been given the opportunity to travel across the country for competitions and meet current and future litigators, which has been invaluable for building my professional network.”

Advocacy and empowerment

Gwen Stern
Gwen Stern, professor of law and director of the trial advocacy program

Drexel Kline Law’s trial team is part of the school’s Trial Advocacy Program. The program is among the nation’s best and was ranked 15th by U.S. News & World Report in 2023.

Gwen Roseman Stern, professor of law and program director, emphasizes that while the trial team is an important part of trial advocacy, the program has a broader purpose: “to teach every type of student how to become a better oral advocate and be more comfortable on their feet–in every capacity, not just in the courtroom.” Stern aims, through classes like Introduction to Trial Advocacy, to get students “able to feel comfortable being in front of other people, and with public speaking.”

Her favorite students are those who start out the most nervous. “People can go from literally terrified to…being so empowered that they’re like a rock star,” Stern says.

In addition to Introduction to Trial Advocacy, the program’s curriculum includes classes such as Pretrial Advocacy, Depositions, Advanced Civil Trial Advocacy, Advanced Criminal Trial Advocacy, Advanced Trial Advocacy: Courtroom Technology & Advocacy, Advanced Trial Advocacy: Trials of the Century, and Advanced Trial Advocacy: Law and Medicine. 

The Trial Advocacy Program also includes the Courtroom Scholarship, which Drexel Kline Law offers to promising undergraduate mock trial competitors. Pasquarello works hand in hand with the admissions office to recruit and evaluate scholarship candidates.

Another key resource is The Thomas R. Kline Institute of Trial Advocacy, the building at 12th and Chestnut streets that houses four modern courtrooms and a boardroom for students to practice in. “The building is just incomparable to any place in the country,” says Stern. 

Keys to success

Phil Pasquarello
Phil Pasquarello, trial competition director

Stern gives primary credit for the program’s success to the students. “Our students are amazing and very passionate,” she says. “They really put so much effort into these courses. When the students show up for these national competitions, people are so blown away–not just by how we win, but by how mature they are, how professional they are, how ethical they are, how ethical our coaches are ....Ethics are No.1 to us. So everyone is very impressed with us as a group when we go out.”

She also credits the instructional staff. “Our adjunct professors are amazing,” she says. “We have federal judges, civil plaintiffs’ and defense lawyers, and criminal prosecutors.” She points to “the plethora of knowledge that is brought into this program by different adjunct professors because we’re in Philadelphia, one of the best legal communities, if not the best, in the country.”

“We get to pick the best people who are not only incredibly knowledgeable about the law, but are also great teachers,” she says.

Stern gives props to someone else, too: “Phil Pasquarello is a brilliant lawyer, coach, and competition trial director who is incredibly ethical, passionate, and completely devoted to Drexel Kline students. He is not only about the win. He is about teaching our students to be great trial lawyers when they leave our program. And I could not run this program without him.”

As for Pasquarello, he believes a primary factor driving the success of the trial team, in particular, is that “the law school is uniquely dedicated to trial advocacy in a way that no other law school is.” 

“We’re trying to make this law school the epicenter of trial advocacy,” he says. “We want people who are dedicated to this as a career path and want to do this at our law school and do it at a high level.

“The law school has done a great job of giving our program the resources we need to be successful, and we’ve just sort of taken the ball and run.”