Quinnipiac Law takes it all in mock trial competition, advances to nationals

March 29, 2022

Photo of a gavel

Quinnipiac law students are no strangers to this competition and their coaches have been bringing teams since 2011.

For the second consecutive year, Quinnipiac was crowned co-champion of the New England Regional competition. This year was a game-changer – it is the first time ever that Quinnipiac shared the co-champion title with, well, itself. Both of the university’s teams were crowned co-champions after both teams defeated Harvard in the final rounds.

Each team had three students. Emily Lanthier (3L), Abigail Centrella (3L), and Jake Keanna (2L) on one; with Elizabeth Hyrwiniak (3L), Alexis Farkash (3L), and Catherine Ingersoll (2L) on the other. The two QUSL teams were part of a 22-team, 12 school competition. Each of 15 regions in the country crown two Regional Champions and the top 30 teams move on to compete in the National Championships in Texas, beginning March 30.

The National Trial Competition, in its 46th year, is co-sponsored by the American College of Trial Lawyers and Texas Young Lawyers Association and starts with over 290 U.S. teams from ABA accredited law schools.

This year’s competition featured a criminal case file where the defendant was charged with drug possession with the intent to sell. Throughout the weekend QUSL teams tried the case five times over four days, posing as prosecutors and defense. Their coaches – trial attorneys and professors Ryan O’Neill and Sean McGuinness – said that all of the aspiring attorneys worked hard and added that Emily and Lizzy excelled in the grueling position of having to be on both sides of the case depending on the trial.

“We focus them on doing what would be necessary to win a verdict in a real case, paying attention to the details that would help you get to the point of being able to present a case that would be able to win,” O’Neill said.

After three preliminary rounds, both QUSL teams placed in the top eight and advanced to the semifinals. In the semifinal round, both QUSL teams triumphed -- one over Suffolk, the other over UMASS – advancing to a Quinnipiac v. Harvard showdown in each of the two final rounds. Quinnipiac and Harvard were the only schools to advance both teams beyond the preliminary rounds.

Quinnipiac’s teams won extremely close and competitive trials in the finals, with all four teams achieving near perfect scores from the evaluators. Overall, the Quinnipiac teams went a combined 8-2 and won on 25/32 ballots throughout the competition.

Future attorney teammate Jake Keanna said that he knows that each time he has the opportunity to compete, he can put Quinnipiac on the map of success.

“The warm gestures and uplifting talks with faculty and our coaches before, during and after competition makes it all worth it. I'm always told how anything is possible and I actually look forward to competing against some of these top tier schools,” he said.

After Jake’s father passed away during his first month of law school, his drive deepened.

“Every competition, remembering how proud he would be gives me the boost that some teams don't expect to see in my passion. I have a chip on my shoulder that will never go away,” he said. This past fall Jake won the Georgetown White-Collar Invitational as well as Best Advocate.

He knows that Quinnipiac is preparing him for a life of law by building up his abilities, allowing him to make connections and giving him a voice. He loves the opportunity he’s had taking courses such as Trial Practice, Electronic Evidence, Visual Persuasion, and others that have helped him become a strong advocate.

McGuinness said the Mock Trial course is considered experiential learning that students receive credit for. Preparation takes around six weeks in a group and individual setting.

“In that six-week time, we go from learning how to take a case that just starts with case files with documents and reports and prior testimony. Then we prepare the case for a trial,” O’Neill said. “We go through the techniques of trial advocacy and perform it in front of a jury. The goal is that by the end of that crash course, they're prepared to try the case against this other team and have learned hands-on all of the steps that it takes from start to finish.”

McGuinness added, “They're each responsible for doing an opening statement or a closing argument, and they're each responsible for doing direct- and cross-examination as well as being responsible for understanding objections and the rules of evidence and procedure.”

Without sharing Quinnipiac’s secret sauce for success, McGuinness did say that developing the case theory and coming up with a persuasive story from each side of the case - a compelling story that makes sense is key to the teams’ success.

“There is some luck involved too. Ryan and I are both trial lawyers and what we do is an art, it's not a science and there are a lot of different opinions about how it should be done, but there’s definitely luck involved,” McGuinness said.

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