Federal Trial Advocacy in Puerto Rico

rulesTwelve teams will be invited to participate in the competition, which will consist of two preliminary rounds of trials, followed by a semifinal round between the four teams with the highest scores. The two winners of the semifinal round will compete in the final round. During all trials, each student advocate must conduct a direct examination of a witness, a cross examination of a witness, and present eithcompetitioner the opening statement or the closing argument. Student advocates are also expected to make objections and handle exhibits.

Each team must consist of four law students, who are currently enrolled, in good standing, attending the law school which they represent and working towards a J.D. degree or its equivalent. Every team must be accompanied by a faculty advisor.

In each trial round, two students will be advocates and two students will be witnesses for their own trial team. A student may be an advocate or a witness in any trial, but cannot be both advocate and witness in the same trial. That is, the two student advocates who act as prosecutors may act as witnesses when their team is handling the defense: the students who are the prosecution witnesses will then be defense counsels when the team represents the defendant. It is not allowed for two students to act as advocates for both sides throughout the preliminary rounds, while the other two student team members act as witnesses. Nor can one student be both prosecution and defense advocate, with the second student being a witness throughout the competition, the third student being a defense attorney and prosecution witness. Every participant student must advocate at least once during the preliminary rounds. However, this rule does not apply for the semi-final and final rounds.

At least three attorneys or judges will evaluate each preliminary trial. One evaluator will serve as presiding judge and will rule according to the Federal Rules of Evidence. At least two evaluators will act as jurors (there could be a rare case in which a trial has only a judge and a juror; if so, and if there is a tie, the presiding judge’s vote will count twice). Both the presiding judge and the evaluators will award scores to the student advocates. If there are more than two evaluators scoring the round, all judges will have scoring ballots and comment sheets, but only the scores given by the presiding judge and two of the evaluators previously designated by the Director will count toward reaching the cumulative score.

The ballots of the presiding judge and the evaluators will be counted equally, except in the event of a tiebreaker in which the presiding judge’s ballot will be counted twice. In the event of a tie, the trial judge’s evaluation would be used in the initial tabulation of the scores and it could also be used as a tiebreaker.

Because the rules provide that the evaluator must not award the same score to more than one student advocate in a round, in effect the scoring system requires that the evaluators rank the participants. The evaluators are also asked to prepare written comments in each advocate’s performance, and to render a jury verdict independent of the performance scores. The written comments and verdict are not considered in the scores, and are only for the instruction of the participants.

The team with the highest number of performance points wins the round. In the event of a tie in the number of points awarded, the presiding judge’s vote will count twice.

The four teams with the higher standing will be progressing to the semifinals.