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South Texas law students driven to be top lawyers

November 18, 2018

Becoming the best trial lawyer you can be begins with an education well-versed in preparing students for every situation. South Texas College of Law Houston is proving to do just that for its students.

The proof is in an outstanding championship record of winning 131 law school competitions — more than twice as many as any other law school in the country. So how do these competitions translate into success for STCL Houston graduates in the real world?

Some have become justices on the Texas Supreme Court, and some are partners at the most influential law firms in the country. PreLaw Magazine ranked STCLH as “Best Moot Court of the Decade.”

National competitions are a key way law schools prepare their students for careers as trial advocates.

STCL Houston students do not enter the competition realm until at least their third semester. Before this, foundation courses and established grades are the priority.

It’s not until the summer of their first year that students can participate in Trial Academy, a voluntary mock trial program. This program introduces students to techniques such as evidence procedure, opening and closing statements, and cross examination.

Starting in their third semesters, students can take the two classes taught by T. Gerald Treece, assistant dean of the law school, who leads the school’s moot court and mock trial competition teams. The classes, Mock Trial Litigation and Appellate Advocacy, are competitions of sorts, Treece said.

“This is where we start selecting people who will represent the school in tournaments across the country,” said Treece, who is known around campus as “Coach.”

When students graduate from STCL Houston, they’ve had the opportunity to do everything they’ll do as a trial lawyer in the real world.

Trial lawyers have many responsibilities: spending days contacting witnesses, talking to involved parties as well as reviewing files, court meetings, jury selection, arguing motions and scheduling. Treece said success as an advocate requires a high degree of motivation, communication skills akin to a great salesperson and a thick skin.

“It’s become very clear to me that some people have a certain skill set for doing trial work and appellate work. It’s not a question of who is the smartest. It’s people who are motivated to be in the courtroom, people who can make a legal argument, talk to a jury, and do so in regular conversational speech,” said Treece, a 40-year veteran professor of trial advocacy.

The Advocacy program continues to instill pride in the graduates long after they’ve left law school. Dozens of former champion advocates return to STCL Houston to coach students in competitions. This is part of the school’s secret to success.

“My teams are always coached by former top advocates who are now practicing lawyers, and that’s what’s made the system so sustaining. It’s advocates taking care of advocates,” Treece said.

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