Suffolk University Law School students Gillian Mann JD’17 and James Duffy JD’17 won the New England Regional Championship of the National Trial Competition last month. The Suffolk students defeated Yale Law School in the final round and Harvard in the semifinals to advance to the nationals in Fort Worth, Texas, March 23. The competition’s early rounds were held in Boston’s Suffolk Superior Court and included 14 law schools from across New England.
Victory at the regionals has become a tradition at Suffolk Law. The school’s trial advocacy program was ranked 16th in the country by US News in the 2017 rankings guide, and its teams have won the regionals of the National Trial Competition or the American Association for Justice Competition 28 times in the last 32 years. The team’s coach, Professor Timothy Wilton, prepared the students with the help of alumni Luke Rosseel JD ’14 and Ben Duggan JD ’12.
Mann said that during her preparation for the trial she learned from her coaches that in cross examination, “I can be too nice. My disposition is not to be so aggressive, so I’ve been working on controlling the witness and being a bit tougher when I have to be. In this case I was questioning an informant, this person who was really unlikable, and I needed to take control.”
Both students are hoping to work as assistant district attorneys when they graduate. Mann is working in the law school’s Defender’s Clinic. “I’m in court now, in front of judges. I’m arguing motions, negotiating with the prosecution. I’m using the advocacy skills in real life situations.”
Duffy says his work in the law school’s Prosecutor’s Clinic has taught him how to build the elements of a case and how to think on his feet. “In court you think you know what to expect, but something always happens that you were not expecting. In situations like that you have to adjust almost immediately. That's what trial attorneys have to do, and that skill translates well in trial competitions.”
He and Mann will be preparing for the finals with 8 hours of practice each day on the weekends before their trip to Fort Worth.
In the 2017 rankings guide, Suffolk Law was the only law school in the country ranked in all four US News legal skills specialties (trial advocacy, dispute resolution, clinics, and legal writing are all ranked in the top 20). Suffolk Law Dean Andrew Perlman argues that the school’s national recognition for legal skills training places it among the nation’s best for hands-on learning.
The students served as both defense and prosecution in different rounds of the competition. The case they were trying involved a defendant arrested for possession with intent to distribute a kilogram of heroin. Complicating matters for the defense, the jury is instructed that a defendant who makes him or herself ignorant of a fact simply to avoid prosecution (in this case, not knowing the contents of a cooler full of drugs by never looking inside it) can be inferred to have had knowledge of that fact.