When David Vyborny, L’11, suggested the University of Richmond School of Law’s Trial Advocacy Board (TAB) host this year’s National Trial Competition region 4 finals he had one goal: To do it “Richmond style.”

“We wanted to put on a big show to showcase the law school,” explained Vyborny, who is TAB president. “I knew we had a lot of great resources and people who could make it happen. It was all about getting our name out there and doing a great job.”

For Vyborny, that meant not only wowing participants with accomplished judges and a stellar venue at Richmond’s federal courthouse, but also giving them a taste of the hospitality and collegiality that are hallmarks of the law school.

“Everyone from the school has been very friendly,” said competitor Lauren Taylor of the University of Baltimore School of Law. “They have made us all feel very welcome.”

The competition took place Feb. 4-6 at the Spottswood W. Robinson III and Robert R. Mehrige, Jr., Federal Courthouse of the United States District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia. The University of Richmond’s downtown campus, UR Downtown, located across the street from the federal courthouse, served as a reception and registration site for witnesses and judges before each round.

Temple Roach, L’11, National Trial Competition coordinator for TAB, worked for months to ensure that Richmond’s competition was a success. In addition to securing the federal courthouse with the help of Chief Judge James R. Spencer and Federal Magistrate Judge Hannah Lauck, Roach and the TAB board were able to recruit sitting judges and experienced trial lawyers from across Virginia to preside over the competition. Judge Spencer sat on the bench during the final round, with the Hon. Robert F. Payne and the Hon. John Gibney, both of the Eastern District, serving as jurors.

“The National Trial Competition is the Super Bowl of trial advocacy,” said law school Dean John Douglass. “Richmond was selected to host the regional championship based on our outstanding performance as competitors in past years. Hosting was a great honor, but also a huge undertaking. Our Trial Advocacy Board rose to the occasion and produced a first-class event.”  

TAB allows students to experience the role of a trial lawyer through intra- and inter-scholastics competitions, giving students the opportunity to gain practical experience and to demonstrate their skills to the outside world.

The Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers sponsor the National Trial Competition. It was established in 1975 to encourage and strengthen students' advocacy skills through competition and interaction with members of the bench and bar. The top two teams from each of the 14 regional competitions advances to the finals, held each spring in Houston.

All competitors argue the same case throughout the competition, acting as prosecutor or defense counsel. At Richmond’s competition, 22 teams from Virginia, Maryland, and Washington law schools tried the case of "The State of Lone Star v. Robert Duffie," a hypothetical double-murder and robbery case. A team from Georgetown University Law Center won the competition and the University of Maryland School of Law was the runner-up.

On Saturday morning of the competition the corridors and courtrooms of the federal courthouse were buzzing as teams prepared for round two, when 11 trials would take place simultaneously. In one sixth-floor courtroom, teams from the University of Baltimore School of Law and William and Mary Law School faced off in a trial presided over by the Hon. Ted Markow, a retired Richmond judge. Fifteen minutes before the trial began, each side met with their witnesses for the first time. After presenting carefully rehearsed and dramatic opening arguments, the competitors examined and cross-examined the witnesses, played by Will Stanton, L’12, David Morgenstein, L’12, Rebecca Johnson, L’13, and Kevin Gregory, L’11.

Recruiting volunteer judges and witnesses for the competition was a huge undertaking, Roach said. The competition required 83 judges, more than 100 witnesses, and 29 bailiffs. "For me, it was of the utmost importance to ensure that we had quality people to serve as evaluators and who could offer valuable feedback," Roach said, "Since, after all, that is what these competitions are all about."

Erica Giovanni, L’10, volunteered as a witness. She was a runner-up in the regional competition last year, and currently works as a law clerk for the Hon. Harold Burgess in Chesterfield County, Va. “Trial competitions give you the confidence you need and teach you how to prepare for court,” she says. “You learn how to tackle a case in a procedural fashion to understand the legal issues. [Competitions] teach you how to adjust to different judges’ personalities and help students refine their style in court.”

Vyborny says he never imagined he had the personality to do trial work — until he tried it and was hooked. Vyborny competed in the National Trial Competition as a 1L and last year served as a coach for the Richmond team. “Everything I’ve done with TAB has helped me to see that trial work is what I love to do,” he said.