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Trial advocacy program advances Loyola’s anti-racist mission

When the Dan K. Webb Center for Advocacy at Loyola University Chicago School of Law presented its biannual Women in Litigation Conference this fall, leaders took the opportunity to advance its commitment to diversity, inclusion, and anti-racism.

“We focused on training women and people from diverse backgrounds in how to get into advocacy training and teaching,” says Gina Gerardi, assistant director of the center. The conference also included a panel discussion on educating lawyers about the need to expand diversity among trial advocacy coaches and faculty as well as a session on teaching case files that involve diversity and inclusion issues.  

Led by director Zelda B. Harris—who also serves as the law school’s interim dean—the Dan K. Webb Center for Advocacy is consistently ranked among the country’s top 15 programs. Presenting the Women in Litigation conference is among the many ways the center furthers the School of Law’s mission, which was recently rewritten with 100% faculty approval to reflect Loyola’s commitment to dismantling the legal, economic, political, and social structures that generate and sustain racism and all forms of oppression. 

Diverse competitors, coaches, faculty, and mentors

Loyola’s mock trial, moot court, and dispute resolution teams, which regularly rack up wins in regional, national, and international competitions are composed of students from diverse demographics. Loyola’s affinity mock trial competition team has advanced to nationals in the National Black Law Students Association Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition in each of the past five years, including winning the national championship in 2020.

Ensuring diversity among advocacy coaches and faculty is also essential at Loyola. “We stress the importance of diverse coaches to the lead coaches who choose their teams, and we have an overall diverse coaching staff,” says Adrienne D. Mebane, associate director of the center. “I hire adjunct professors for experience with a view toward diversity. Our adjuncts are often volunteer competition judges and coaches before they come onto the faculty, so we try to feed diverse people into the program early.”

The legal practitioners—including many Loyola alums—who participate in the advocacy mentorship program also are diverse. Because the 1Ls matched with mentors who share academic and career advice are significantly diverse, “it’s important that our mentors reflect that,” Gerardi says.

Creative solutions during a pandemic

In addition to hosting this fall’s All-Star Bracket Challenge Midwest Regional, Loyola University Chicago has hosted two other competitions in the last year: the Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition-Region 9 and the National Board of Trial Advocacy Tournament of Champions. Because of the COVID-10 pandemic, all three competitions were held virtually—a big challenge Gerardi and her colleagues handled with aplomb. The Texas Young Lawyers Association even incorporated elements of Loyola’s well-run regional competition into its national event.

Mebane guided the faculty in making virtual advocacy training and competition experiences meaningful for students, including brainstorming ways to effectively use exhibits in an online environment. Because arguing a case is different on screen than in a courtroom, “We made sure we taught them the distinctions and what would transfer into the real world,” Mebane says. “For example, they learned the ways that movement—making gestures and emoting—is different for online and in-person advocacy.”

Advocacy throughout the curriculum

Loyola University Chicago integrates elements of advocacy throughout the law curriculum. All 1Ls serve as mock trial jurors, bailiffs, or audience members for moot court, and every student is required to complete eight credits of advocacy skills and experiential learning courses. Students with a deeper interest in advocacy try out for competition teams or apply for the prestigious Philip H. Corboy Fellowship Program.

Loyola students also may earn a certificate in advocacy, a big plus for employers. When Mebane was an attorney for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office and Chicago Transit Authority before joining the Loyola faculty, “We were always looking for people who already had practical experience,” she says. “Loyola’s advocacy certificate lets the many students who come to us with an eagerness to be advocates—and prove that throughout their three years here—walk into a law office knowing how to try a case.”

Loyola teams shine in competitions

Selected Loyola University Chicago mock trial competition championships from the past several years:

  • American Association for Justice Student Trial Advocacy Competition Regional Champions
  • Professor Bernie L. Segal National Mock Trial In Vino Veritas Competition National Champions (twice)
  • National Black Law Students Association Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition National Champions, Midwest Regional Champions (twice)
  • National Board of Trial Advocacy Tournament of Champions National Champions
  • Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition Regional Champions (five times)
  • William W. Daniel National Invitational Mock Trial Competition National Champions (twice)