Trial Advocacy Program

Effective advocacy is one of a lawyer’s most important skills. The Trial Advocacy program at the University of Illinois College of Law teaches fundamental trial skills – from opening statements to closing arguments – using a “learning by doing” approach.

Trial Advocacy Courses

In the Trial Advocacy program, students tackle real world challenges through experiential learning to gain the skills they need to succeed in today’s competitive environment – no matter what paths they choose to follow – non-profit, public sector, or firm practice. A dedicated faculty of seasoned trial practitioners supports the Trial Advocacy Program at the College, giving students unparalleled opportunities to learn from a variety of experienced attorneys. These talented lawyers represent a combination of attorneys in private practice and public service, as well as sitting state court judges. Each faculty member brings distinctive day-to-day insights into the practice of law to share with students. 

Every academic year is filled with a variety of unique advocacy learning opportunities for our law students, including:

  • Participation in trial advocacy core courses;
  • Opportunities for participation in clinics and other learning experiences that apply principles to practice;
  • Guest lectures and demonstrations featuring leading practitioners in the field;
  • One-on-one mentoring support that is vital for law students as they prepare for their legal careers.

While the primary focus of the Trial Advocacy curriculum is to prepare students for a career in litigation, the program also conveys significant benefits to students interested in a transactional or other non-litigation practice. Through the Trial Advocacy curriculum, students will gain exposure to the key elements of a legal career in any field, including ethics and professional responsibility, analytical and critical thinking skills, communication and presentation skills, and norms for interaction with clients and other stakeholders.  The University of Illinois College of Law places a strong emphasis on trial advocacy to develop lawyers who graduate with the skills they need to become polished and confident communicators who are “practice ready” on day one of their new professional roles. 

Trial Team

The University of Illinois College of Law’s Trial Team has supported competitive student advocacy at the school for nearly two decades. The mission of the team is to empower members to gain the required tools, skills, and knowledge to be “practice ready” as they embark on their legal careers. Trial team competitions teach students how to meet the practical challenges that lawyers typically face in a modern legal practice. In addition to polishing their basic advocacy skills, team members learn how to analyze and master a case file, navigate a courtroom environment, discipline hostile or aggressive witnesses, and turn the laws of evidence into allies. The team participates in eight interscholastic tournaments each academic year at both the national and regional level. Trial team members try at least one case during each semester of membership and, in doing so, they transfer knowledge gained in the classroom domain into firsthand practical experiences in the courtroom.

The Trial Advocacy Program annually chooses team members through a competitive selection process. Eligibility for the trial team requires the prerequisites or co-requisites of three College of Law courses: Trial Advocacy (694), Fundamentals of Trial Practice (695) and Evidence (682). Those who accept invitations to the team undergo rigorous training with a practitioner coach with periodic bonus critiques from College of Law faculty, Illinois alumni, and additional seasoned practicing attorney volunteers as competition weekends approach.  Members earn academic credit each semester for participation on the team, attending training workshop sessions, and competition events.  Moreover, members have exceptional opportunities at trial advocacy tournaments to make valuable networking connections within the legal community with sitting judges, practicing attorneys, and peers from law schools across the country. Ultimately, team members gain knowledge, experience and expertise in trial skills, oratorical skills, evidence, and teamwork. The bottom line is that the trial team experience at the University of Illinois College of Law turns law students into lawyers with the skills they need to excel in the legal profession. 

For more information on the Trial Advocacy Program and Trial Team, please email Scott Szala, Interim Director of the Trial Advocacy Program at scottjszala@gmail.com or Virginia Vermillion, Dean of Students at deanv@illinois.edu.

Investing in the Next Generation of Legal Advocates

In the spring of 2021, the College of Law announced the establishment of the Kimball R. and Karen Gatsis Anderson Center for Advocacy and Professionalism. The $5,000,000 commitment from the Andersons is the largest non-deferred gift in the history of the College of Law. Karen and Kimball Anderson are both double-Illini, having received their bachelor’s degrees in 1974 and their Law degrees in 1977.

“A strong need exists to better equip the next generation of lawyers with advocacy skills and an understanding of the professional responsibility obligations attendant to client advocacy. We hope that our gift will enable the University of Illinois College of Law to lead the country in these critical disciplines,” said Kimball Anderson.

The Center portfolio of courses, activities, and events focused on Trial Advocacy, Pretrial Advocacy, Appellate Advocacy, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility will provide students, alumni, and other legal practitioners in Illinois and around the world with the skills required to excel in all manners of legal practice. Infrastructure upgrades will allow each section of the Trial Advocacy Workshop and Advanced Trial Advocacy students to practice pretrial and courtroom skills while Trial Team and Moot Court students are preparing for competition. And, a new ceremonial courtroom in Chicago will cement ties between Champaign and Chicago-based program activities.

Furthermore, the inclusion of a robust professional responsibility component, already part of the College of Law’s advocacy-training culture, is an important aspect that distinguishes the Anderson Center from advocacy-related entities at many other law schools.

Implementation of a majority of the components of the Anderson Center on a five-year track will solidify its position among the nation’s top Advocacy programs.

Key Components

  • Chicago ceremonial courtroom and 20-seat teaching/practice courtroom in Champaign
  • Advocacy-focused lecture series
  • Colloquium on advocacy, legal ethics, and professional responsibility
  • 2-day advocacy intensive for students