At W&L Law, students benefit from the many experiences and learning opportunities both within and beyond the classroom. We asked several of our current law students to discuss the activities and organizations they have chosen to devote their time and energies to. Today, 2L Tunde Cadmus explains his involvement with the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) and the BLSA mock trial team.
The Black Law Students Association, or “BLSA”, is a national organization that seeks to promote the educational, professional, political and social needs of black law students. Algernon Johnson Cooper, former mayor of Prichard, Alabama, founded the organization in 1968 at the New York University Law School. Today, BLSA is a multi-national, student-run organization, with over 200 law school chapters in forty-eight states, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and six different countries.
In 2002, BLSA, in accordance with its mission to promote the educational and professional development of black law students, developed the Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial Competition—a national mock trial competition created to help develop the courtroom skills of future lawyers.
Of course, W&L Law has its own esteemed Mock Trial Competition. There are, however, a few key differences between the law school’s competition and the BLSA competition. First, the BLSA competition is completely independent from the school’s competition, with different rules regarding eligibility and overall competition structure. For example, 1Ls are not allowed to compete in the school’s mock trial competition (or any of the other competitions, including Moot Court, Negotiations, or Client Counseling). Conversely, 1Ls are free to participate in BLSA Mock Trial (there is also a BLSA Moot Court competition, the Frederick Douglas Moot Court Competition, in which 1Ls are also free to participate), so long as they join the W&L BLSA chapter. Another striking difference is that competitors in W&L’s competition are not allowed to seek help from faculty in preparing their case. In the BLSA competition, however, each team may have a faculty member who can coach and guide them in all aspects leading up to the actual competition. Third, W&L’s competition is structured so that each “team” consists of two students who will not necessarily advance together; each person is scored individually and only one person will be named as the school’s mock trial winner. In the BLSA competition, each team is comprised of four students, and the team is scored as a whole. Therefore, if a team scores enough points, the team as a whole advances.
Another difference worth noting is the opportunity for the teams in the BLSA competition to travel and compete against students from other schools in the first round of competitions. BLSA is organized into six different regions (W&L’s chapter is in the Mid-Atlantic Region), and the first phase of the competition involves competing in rounds against other teams in the region. The Regional Competitions can be held in a hotel anywhere in the respective region. Similarly, teams that do well at the Regional level will advance and compete against other students at the National Competition, which can be held anywhere in the nation! There is no similar guarantee that a competitor in the school-sponsored competition will be able to travel and compete against students from other schools.
Participating in BLSA Mock Trial has been the most rewarding, educational, and inspiring—yet challenging and stressful—experience I have had in law school so far. As a 1L, I remember being frustrated at the realization that law school (for 1Ls, anyway) only consisted of reading cases and living with the constant anxiety of being called upon in class and questioned on those cases. I knew that there had to be more to law school, and because of BLSA Mock Trial, I realized that there was. Participating in the BLSA Mock Trial competition, especially as a 1L, helped me better understand the legal principles I was learning by forcing me to apply them in a “real” legal setting. I learned that the seemingly distant and esoteric concepts in my casebooks actually apply to everyday situations and issues. Being in a courtroom and arguing motions before a judge, cross-examining witnesses, engaging in objection colloquies with an opposing party, and working with my co-counsel and witnesses both before and during the trial reinforced my desire to become a lawyer and reminded by why I came to law school.
This will be the third year that the BLSA chapter at W&L will be participating in the Mock Trial competition. With the help of our amazing coach, Prof. Belmont, W&L has advanced to the National Competition for the last two years, and we hope to continue that trend this year. In my opinion, the fact that the BLSA competition allows faculty to coach the teams is what makes it perhaps even more attractive than the law school’s competition. The BLSA Mock Trial Problem is extremely complex and can contain any number of evidentiary documents such as complaints, indictments, police reports, medical reports, depositions, testimonies, statutes, and jury instructions, just to name a few. Sifting through all this material without any guidance as to what is relevant or admissible can be daunting. As our coach, Prof. Belmont teaches us how to effectively tackle the problem and litigate the case as if we were already real attorneys—skills that I have honed outside of the classroom.