Freshman Aquilla Maliyekkal paces the green carpeting of room 103 in Jepson Hall. He walks in circles around the well of the lecture hall, speaking to an empty audience. He furrows his brow and looks down at the ground, as the carefully planned speech he is reciting leaves his mind for a moment. 

It is 6:55 p.m. on a Monday night, the penultimate practice for the University of Richmond’s mock trial team, and just five days before Maliyekkal and the rest of the A-team members leave for the Outer Regional Conference at the Widener University Delaware Law School.

Five minutes later, 25 people have flooded into the room, speaking over one another about varying topics such as legal codes, objection etiquette and law schools. 

Tim Patterson, director and head coach of the UR mock trial program, breaks up the crowd and pulls the A-team aside. He gives a pep-talk to the anxious, but prepared, team members. 

“If we come away from this competition with pride in our work, then we’ve already won,” Patterson said. “But if we stay focused and stick to our work, then we can come away with a bid for Nationals.” 

And over the course of four trials in two days, against 24 other teams, they did just that, placing 3rd in the rankings out of the 24 teams in attendance. 

With this placing, they earned one of six available bids to the national competition, held on April 26 in Los Angeles. This is the second time in eight years that the team has gone to nationals. 

Collegiate mock trial, as organized by the American Mock Trial Association, AMTA, is a team of three witnesses and three attorneys putting on the same trial as all other mock-trial teams across the country. Each team has only months to rehearse and create a case for both the defense as well as the plaintiff, ultimately competing against other collegiate teams at regional mock-trial conferences.

The eight members on UR’s mock-trial A-team, a mix of all undergraduate years and majors, are placed in the most competitive bracket depending on the specifics of the year’s case and how well they have performed in the past. 

UR mock trial attended their first regional competition of the year on Feb. 18, and won first place out of the 24 teams at the event. 

“That was the first time a Richmond team won an AMTA-run event in about a decade,” sophomore and witness Sam Schwartzkopf said. “It was legitimizing and exciting, not just for A-Team, but for the entire program and its future.”

Patterson describes collegiate mock trial as a combination of public speaking, legal analysis, thinking on your feet and putting on a presentation. Patterson has been involved in UR’s mock-trial team since he was a freshman at the undergraduate school in 2006. 

“I joined because I made a mistake and thought I was attending the debate-club info session,” he said with a chuckle. 

After graduating from UR in 2010, Patterson became head coach of UR mock trial while attending the T.C. Williams School of Law. For him, coaching the mock-trial team is rewarding because he gets to witness not only the growth of the members' legal skills, but also their relationships with one another. 

“I really get this sense of family from our current team, and it’s something I experienced when I was a student, so it feels good to be able to help create that for these students,” Patterson said.

The team has been rising in the ranks of mock-trial events ever since Patterson began coaching. They received a bid to the national championships the previous year and were placed 7th overall in the country based on their track record over the last three years. According to Patterson, in order to continue with their upward trajectory, strategy is key. 

Junior Jabari Lucas, vice president of the mock trial program, said that this team has a clear and focused outlook on their work, but is also a connected, loving family that finds success in its members' relationships with one another. 

“I often make the comparison to the Cleveland Cavaliers, because just like the Cavs, we’re the people who play our game and don’t let any outside forces influence us,” Lucas said with a laugh. “Other teams may change their game for a judge or for a case, but we just do us, and we can win with that.”

Contact contributor Kevin Johnson at walter.johnson@richmond.edu.