Baylor Law Mock Trial Team Crowned Champions
Baylor Law’s mock trial team won the 2023 Tournament of Champions (TOC), the second time Baylor Law has won this prestigious competition. With the inaugural competition held in 1989, TOC is one of the nation’s longest-running and most exclusive invitational mock trial competitions, which features the 16 law schools with the best records in various mock trial competitions over the previous three years. Baylor Law has earned an invitation to the tournament for over 15 straight years. Additionally, Baylor Law hosted both the 2014 and 2020 TOC competitions and previously won the championship in 2012.
The Baylor Law team of Gage Jones, Varun Reddy, Vivian Noyd, and Greta Andersen competed against 15 other national teams from top law schools, including Georgetown, NYU, California Berkeley, and UCLA. This year’s problem was criminal, and the Baylor Law team was the only team in the competition that won three rounds as the prosecution team. In the final round, the Baylor Law team faced UCLA, prevailing in a very close round and securing the championship trophy.
The team was coached by Robert Little, Director of Advocacy Programs at Baylor Law, along with three adjunct professors: Mark Altman, Cahal McColgan, and Kris Ruiz. All four coaches are experienced trial lawyers and Baylor Law’s renowned Practice Court program alumni.
Third-year student Gage Jones also received two individual awards for his outstanding performance during the competition. He was named Best Advocate in the final round and received a student’s choice award for Best Advocate for the entire competition. “My teammates were the best I could ask for; while they are incredibly talented advocates, that was true for everyone at this competition, so it all came down to their hard work, dedication, and willingness to go just one step further. Everyone put so much of themselves into every practice, and our coaches made good use of that to ensure we were prepared to perform at a high level no matter what got thrown our way,” noted Jones after the winners were announced. Teammate Vivian Noyd echoed Jones’s thoughts, “Winning TOC was an incredible experience and one of the highlights of my time in law school. The level of competition at TOC was extraordinarily high.” She added, “Winning TOC is a testament to the exceptional guidance and mentorship provided by our coaches, Robert Little, Mark Altman, Cahal McColgan, and Kristopher Ruiz. They each volunteered countless hours to help us understand the problem, develop our theory of the case, and answer our questions. Throughout the competition, our coaches encouraged us to take risks, have confidence in our preparation, and not be afraid to adapt to each round. While many programs mold their advocates into one style, Baylor is unique in its commitment to both individuality and practicality in the courtroom.”
“Professor Powell told me when we won in 2012 that he never thought we would win a championship at TOC because the students on our TOC teams are always competing while also in Practice Court, meaning that they are going through their toughest quarter at Baylor Law while also trying to prepare to compete in one of the toughest competitions in the country. What these students have done, balancing reading for Practice Court, classes, Practice Court exercises, mock trial practice, preparing for finals, and now winning a national championship at TOC, it is just a remarkable accomplishment, and I’m extremely proud of them,” Little said.
Little added, “I told these students after they won that final round, in the entire storied history of our advocacy program, which features numerous national and regional championships at a host of moot court, mock trial, transactional, and alternative dispute resolution competitions, there were only four Baylor Law students that could claim to have won TOC for Baylor Law – Stephen Netherton, Leah Graham, David Shaw, and Blayne Thompson – who won it back in 2012. Now, eight students can make that claim, and that is a very exclusive club.”
Competitor Varun Reddy summarized Baylor Law’s win: “As a team, preparing for this competition was very difficult. Practice Court is a full-time job, and doing written assignments, separate oral advocacy exercises, and studying for weekly quizzes, on top of two- to three-hour practices almost every night, was challenging. But we had outstanding coaches, Cahal, Mark, Prof. Little, and Kris. With their help, we were able to think through almost every angle of the case. We ran through the scenarios together and planned our strategy. But we never stayed wedded to a script. In a trial, unexpected things happen, and you have to be ready to adapt. Sometimes, crazy things. For example, after day one of the competition, we received a new fact thrown into the problem that all but destroyed our defense case. But we didn’t panic. Professor Little always told us to ‘try the case in the room’ as it was happening and to go ‘be a trial lawyer’ when things didn’t go as expected. So, that’s exactly what we did. We adapted. The results show. I could not be prouder of my team.”
The winner of TOC earns the right to host the competition two years later, which means that Baylor Law has earned the right to host the competition in 2025 and bring the best teams in the country to Waco, Texas, for this showcase event. Therefore, in 2025, Baylor Law will get two opportunities to host the best mock trial competitors in the country: Top Gun and TOC.
The Tournament of Champions began in 1989 when Professor Charles E. “Chuck” Kirkwood of the University of Akron School of Law hosted the first competition inviting the best student trial advocacy law schools nationwide. Invitations were based on performance over the years in two “open” student trial competitions, the Texas Young Lawyers Association National Trial Competition and the American Association of Justice National Student Trial Advocacy Competition. Qualifications are now based on a three-year performance record at the National Trial Competition and the National Student Trial Advocacy Competition and performances at prior Tournament of Champions competitions. The TOC Board of Directors includes Susan Poehls, Loyola Law School Los Angeles; Judge Jim Roberts, Cumberland School of Law and Joanne Van Dyke, Syracuse University College of Law.