Dustin Vandenberg ’18, Natalie Robinson ’18, and Brandon Hughes ’19 are one of three Berkeley Law trial teams who will compete in the regional competition in Sacramento the weekend of February 10 for a chance to advance to the national competition for their second consecutive year as a team.
Dustin: Both these guys are the best trial advocates I’ve ever seen. It’s just great to get people who have different backgrounds, who did different roles in the past, and were taught mock trial in different ways. We each have very unique styles and I think they all work very well together. Now we’re in our second year of competitions together and we’re sort of like super team. It’s really exciting to work with both of them.
Natalie: The Berkeley Law trial competition program does an amazing job of creating opportunities for us to practice. Other students from the program prepare the case and we’ll actually run through the trial in what we call “scrimmages.” The students in the program are outstanding, so scrimmaging against our own teammates prepares us for some of the toughest competition.
Brandon: We have to be prepared to argue both sides. Dustin’s doing both openings, and Natalie and I are each closing one side. It’s always interesting competing against other schools because you don’t know their case theory until the trial starts. So, there’s a lot of thinking on your feet. But it helps to prep as much as you can.
Dustin: The time commitment can be large, especially when you’re first starting up. Learning all the rules of evidence, having to learn how to do trials—it’s not necessarily the most natural thing. But it’s definitely worth it. Personally, I think it’s better than any class I’ve taken, by a pretty wide margin.
Natalie: For students like us who are planning to become trial lawyers, there aren’t many opportunities outside of the competition program to actually practice trial skills. So being able to practice and get coached and get feedback throughout law school is going to be hugely beneficial to our careers. But it’s also fun, because it’s just a competition. It’s not real clients. So it’s lower stakes than it will be in the future.
Brandon: It’s so useful, even if you don’t intend to go into litigation. I joined the trial team just to get more comfortable with public speaking. It’s been really helpful in terms of learning how to communicate in an organized, persuasive manner. Making sure that your narrative and message translates. Those skills are useful anywhere.
Dustin: Doing trial competitions is also better than a job interview. If you want to impress someone, them seeing you perform in an actual trial like this is going to speak volumes for you if you want to go work in their D.A.’s office.
Brandon: In terms of making connections and getting top-notch instruction in the art of trial advocacy from practicing litigators, trial team is the best experience a law student can get.