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Court room drama: U of M team takes national title

By Greg Russell

It was a moment that would have made Perry Mason proud.

“What I will remember most was the moment that it all clicked, when everything that Coach Mel and Coach Bridgett had been preaching came together,” said U of M law student Joseph McKinney. “At that moment, I finally understood what it would take to try my case. That’s when I felt not only could I try the case for this competition, but I could try cases in the real world.”

What McKinney was referring to was a recent performance by the University of Memphis mock trial team: The U of M won the Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial national championship over spring break, going undefeated as it beat teams from Harvard, Texas Wesleyan, DePaul, Seattle and St. Mary’s.

The U of M won the recent Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial national competition in Houston. Pictured are team members (left to right) Bridgett Stigger, LaChina Algers, Chandra Madison, Joseph McKinney, Angela Harris and Melanie Stovall Murry. Stigger and Murry coach the team. (photo by Rhonda Cosentino)

Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law students LaChina Algers, Angela Harris and Chandra Madison make up the rest of the winning team. They are coached by Melanie (Coach Mel) Stovall Murry, University of Memphis associate counsel, and Bridgett Stigger, a recent law graduate and former team member.

 “One of our team mottos is ‘mediocrity is unacceptable,’” said Murry.

And, as good lawyers do, the team offered up plenty of proof that it was anything but mediocre at the finals that were held in Houston.

“I think our students were more prepared substantively,” Murry said. “One of the things the students are judged on is their form, but substance is extremely important and I think we had others beat in that area. Our team had the form and the substance.”

McKinney agrees.

“I think what set us apart was our preparation,” he said. “We approached the competition as if we were trying a real trial. We were more technically sound concerning the rules of evidence and more substantively sound concerning the law.”

Algers added, “I feel like we thought of every possible scenario that could possibly present itself. Melanie made sure of that.”

In a mock trial, teams conduct a simulated trial based on a set problem, calling witnesses and addressing the jury. Students must be prepared to argue for the prosecution or the defense.

 McKinney says the victory offers up undeniable evidence of something else.

“This win solidifies my belief in Memphis Law, that we get a top-tier education without the top-tier price tag,” he said. “This win proves that University of Memphis students can compete and win against students from any other law school in the country.”

Murry said she wasn’t surprised by the victory.

“We have some of the best law students in the country and this win does solidify this,” said Murry. “Cecil C. (Humphreys) is a great law school and has some great students. They do a magnificent job at preparing the students to practice law.”

Barbara Kritchevsky, law school director of advocacy, said it was the law school’s “first national mock trial title and first national title in quite a while.”

McKinney said the team owes the win to its two coaches, whom he called “extraordinary.”

“Coach Mel's philosophy is to prepare us to be great lawyers, not just to win a competition,” he said. “While winning is a goal, her main goal is to teach us advocacy skills that we can transfer from the competition to the actual practice of law.”

The competition is sponsored by the National Black Law Students Association.

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