In 2019, Vania Smith ’20 and teammate, Jennifer Brooker ’20, became the first Catholic Law National Mock Trial Team to bring home a National Championship. In addition to the incredible team performance that year, Smith also received the George A. Spiegelberg Award for Best Oral Advocate in the entire competition. Now, almost a year after graduating, Smith has returned to Catholic Law’s Trial Team in an entirely new capacity—coach. Smith recently took the opportunity to reflect on her time on the Mock Trial Team and what it means to her to support the team now.
While a student at Catholic Law, Smith was part of the school’s Evening Program. Like most students that take advantage of the offering, that meant Smith worked a full-time job in addition to her course load. That schedule alone could be a lot for most people, but Smith also understood the importance of getting involved in other activities on campus. She shared, “ It was very important for me to be involved because I knew that I eventually wanted to pursue a second career in legal academia. Building a resume of activities that reflected a well-rounded, complete law school experience was important to me in reaching that goal.” Each of the activities Smith chose to be a part of helped her to shape the type of legal career she aspires to. “Serving as a teaching assistant in the Lawyering Skills Program has made me a Bluebook whiz, and exposed me to academia on the instructor side. Participating in Mock Trial honed my advocacy skills, and made the rules of evidence second nature. Serving on the Law Review Editorial Board and having my article published has polished my writing, and piqued my interest in continuing to write and expand my scholarship.”
For Smith, Mock Trial was particularly important because it teaches its participants something that time in the class can’t—real-world advocacy. The experience of competing against other teams in a trial setting teaches persuasion techniques and helps to hone critical skills that serve any lawyer well. Smith learned how to approach cases and gained confidence in her trial abilities. Considering all that she learned as a member of the team, Smith said, “It was the single most important, challenging, awesome experience I had at CUA.”
The Mock Trial experience is one that she highly recommends to any law student—particularly to those interested in litigation or hoping to improve their advocacy skills. When asked if she had any advice for current evening students who, like her, are looking to diversify their law school experience, she shared, “Don’t think for a moment that Trial Team is not for you. My team, the 2019 national championship team, was comprised of all evening students from the regional to the final. If you are committed to getting it done, you find the time.”
Rejoining the team in her new capacity as a coach has been an equally important opportunity for Smith, and was something she knew she wanted to pursue even while she was still a student. Smith noted, “It’s really a tremendous honor, and something I knew I wanted to do from the moment I joined the team. One of the first things I noticed when I joined Trial Team was the support of Trial Team alumni. They served as judges, scrimmage attorneys and assisted with coaching whenever called upon. That commitment was inspiring and I knew I’d want to do the same.”
Smith has also been able to put her advocacy skills to work outside of the Mock Trial Team. Over the summer, she led the United for Diploma Privilege D.C. team in petitioning the D.C. Court of Appeals to establish the Emergency Exam Waiver Program which would admit new lawyers without a Bar Exam due to testing challenges created by the ongoing pandemic. Since then, the organization has been registered as a non-profit, under the name: The National Association for Equity in the Legal Profession and Smith will serve as a founding board member.
As Smith continues to pursue new legal opportunities and explore her scholarly interests in legal ethics, attorney conduct, and professional responsibility—subject areas she is exploring in her next law review article—she continues to be grateful for her time on the Mock Trial Team and noted that none of it would have been possible without the leadership of Director John Sharifi and Associate Director Lindsey Cloud. Smith concluded, “I never even considered Trial Team, but they saw a potential in me that they were able to cultivate all the way to the top. I will always be grateful for their guidance and support, and can’t wait to give back to CUA’s next group of champions… because it WILL happen again.”