The Top Schools For Trial Advocacy

Oral arguments (photo: Tracy Collins)

Oral arguments (photo: Tracy Collins)

“The shortcoming of today’s law graduate lies not in a deficient knowledge of law but that he has little, if any, training in dealing with facts or people — the stuff of which cases are really made.”

That observation was made by Karen Williams, who has advised Stetson University faculty on mock trials. And she isn’t alone in believing that graduates aren’t ready to hit the ground running. Bashing law grads has become a sport. They are drags who can’t write or file. And they lack the people skills to connect with clients and the practical experience to deliver oral arguments in court.

That’s why trial advocacy courses are so critical. In moot court, success is based on soft skills as much as facts and law. Here, students learn by doing instead of reading. And they face the most critical questions in the practice of law: How do you research and depose to formulate a case and avoid surprises and loose ends? How do you craft an opening statement to set the tone (and closing statements that simplify, clarify, and sway)? How do you choose, phrase, and organize questions to bolster your conclusion? How do you identify the right jurors and relate to them throughout the proceedings? Most important, students learn that their behavior – from their overall demeanor down to their personal tics – can strongly influence a jury’s image of their client (and the credibility of their arguments). In short, students practice the analytical, organizational, and people skills needed to become immediate contributors at their first jobs.

So which schools best train students for trial practice? As part of its 2015 law school rankings, U.S. News & World Report ranked specialty tracks like trial advocacy. Unlike its overall ranking, which weighs criteria like placement rates, LSAT scores, and assessments from law school deans, tenured faculty, lawyers, and judges, U.S. News calculates its specialty rankings strictly from votes submitted by legal scholars, with each voter able to nominate up to 15 schools. Based on the number of votes cast for particular schools, here is U.S. News’ ranking of the top 10 law schools for trial advocacy:

(Continue to next page for school rankings)