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Trial Advocacy

Trial Advocacy at Villanova involves learning both how to think and how to execute like a trial lawyer.  The best way to learn these skills is to practice them.  Therefore, students in Trial Advocacy perform exercises in class under the guidance of the law school’s outstanding trial advocacy faculty, which includes members of the law school faculty, seasoned trial lawyers, and experienced state and federal trial court judges.

Villanova Trial Advocacy

Each class takes place in one of Villanova’s five state-of-the-art courtroom-style classrooms.  Students learn how to analyze a case by identifying, evaluating, and using evidence to prove a claim or defense.  They also learn how to execute a trial strategy by conducting crisp and compelling witness examinations, handling exhibits with precision and confidence, and delivering clear and persuasive arguments.

Trial Advocacy – Basic (2 credits)

Students will develop skills in trial preparation, techniques and tactics by handling simulated trial problems. Exercises include direct and cross examination of witnesses, the introduction of real and demonstrative evidence, examination of experts, opening statements and closing arguments. This course builds upon students' understanding of substantive law, procedural rules, evidence, ethics, drama, psychology and human nature to maximize success in the courtroom. The course culminates with a final trial in lieu of an exam.

Trial Advocacy – Basic Plus, Civil and Criminal / The David E. Worby Course (3 Credits)

Prerequisites: Evidence

NOTE: This class combines elements of Basic and Advanced Trial Advocacy.  As a result, students who take this class MAY NOT Take:

  • Trial Advocacy - Basic
  • Trial Advocacy - Basic Intensive
  • Trial Advocacy - Advanced

This course is designed to sharpen trial skills through weekly criminal and civil trial simulations, which are often derived from actual cases. Students work in groups to prepare for the weekly in-class exercises. In doing so, they learn the importance of working together to develop a cohesive case theory and trial strategy.

The course is structured so that:

  • Each week both teams will alternate its representation of the plaintiff/prosecution and defense;
  • Each week student team members will be responsible for a different trial component (i.e. pretrial motions, opening statements, trial examinations and
  • Ultimately every student will have the opportunity to perform every trial component more than once for both plaintiff/prosecution and defense.

The course will also feature special topics and guest speakers, including attorneys in the cases on which some of the simulated exercises are based. Students are expected to conduct themselves as trial attorneys for the duration of each class session. Participation, preparation and attendance are mandatory. At its culmination, the course requires pairs of students to prepare and preform a final trial.

The final grade will be based on the student's performance at the trial and attendance, preparation, and performance throughout the semester.

Trial Advocacy - Basic Intensive (2 semesters, 4 credits total)

Intensive Trial Advocacy is designed to provide intensive instruction in basic trial advocacy skills to those students most interested in trial advocacy.  The course is based on the philosophy that the best way to learn trial advocacy skills is to perform them and receive feedback.  In the first half of the course, each student has an opportunity to practice each component of the trial in class, so that each student develops the basic advocacy skills necessary to perform each component of the trial effectively.

Skills covered in the first semester include:

  • Direct examination
  • Cross-examination
  • Exhibits
  • Refreshing the recollection of a witness
  • Impeaching a witness
  • Making and responding to objections
  • Opening statements
  • Closing arguments.

The second half of the course ties together the skills learned in the first half.  Rather than focusing on the discrete trial advocacy skills covered in the first semester, the second semester involves exercises that require students to think more about overall trial strategy, to plan each component of the trial consistent with that strategy, and to think tactically about how evidentiary issues impact the overall trial strategy.

The final grade will be based primarily on the student's performance at a final trial at the conclusion of the Spring semester.  The instructor may, however, take into account class attendance, preparation, and performance throughout the course.

Trial Advocacy - Advanced (Criminal) (2 credits)

Advanced Trial Advocacy (Criminal) is designed to build on the skills learned in the basic Trial Advocacy course. It is team-taught by lawyers with experience in trying federal criminal cases. The focus of the course is on sharpening trial skills with respect to a single criminal case.

In the first three-quarters of the course, students practice opening statements; direct and cross examination of fact witnesses, an expert witness, and the defendant; and closing arguments. For those exercises, students alternately represent the prosecution and the defense and take turns acting as witnesses. In the final quarter of the course, each student does a complete trial of the case. In the last class before the trials begin, the prosecutors and defense lawyers meet in separate groups to discuss trial strategy; each discussion is led by an instructor. Throughout the course, but especially in the final trials, the emphasis is on developing a theory of the case and building opening and closing statements around a theme that expresses that theory.

Students who are accepted into the course must review the entire case file and become fully familiar with it at the beginning of the semester. Students are required to attend two trials: their own and one at which they act as witnesses. The final class is a critique of the trials.

The final grade will be based on the student's performance at the trial and attendance, preparation, and performance throughout the semester.


Trial Advocacy - Competition (2 semesters, 2 credits total)

In this course, students compete for positions on Villanova's National Trial Team.

The National Trial Team is a student organization that focuses on oral advocacy at the trial level. The Trial Team represents Villanova at regional and national competitions hosted by other law schools and bar associations across the country. In these competitions, the Trial Team competes against the nation’s best law student advocates in simulated jury trials, which are scored by judges and seasoned attorneys.

Students on the Trial Team are fortunate to be coached by some of the region’s finest litigators, all of whom competed on a team during law school. Under the tutelage of these experienced litigators, students learn how to take a case and prepare it from pretrial to trial disposition. Students understand how to craft a coherent and consistent case theory by applying the given facts to the law. They learn to reason and argue extemporaneously by using the Rules of Evidence as their ally. They practice to communicate logically and to connect with the jury on an emotional level. Trial Team members are molded into professional and skilled litigators.

Trial Team members learn the art of trial advocacy through the best way possible: practice. The competitions in which students participate serve as the best learning tools. Before trial, competitors both argue and respond to pretrial motions concerning the admissibility of evidence. During the trial, competitors will advocate on their client’s behalf through opening statements, direct examination, cross examination and closing arguments.  Competitors use the Federal Rules of Evidence to demonstrate why the evidence offered to the jury is either admissible or inadmissible.

Most members of the Trial Team compete in two external competitions: one in the fall and the spring. A typical semester begins with forming a few small teams, generally teams of four. Then, these smaller teams are assigned to compete at external tournaments around the country. The work then begins with the competition’s release of the case packet (about two months before the competition). Teams will meet a few times per week to practice for the competition. Because of this work and dedication, members of the Trial Team are graded by their faculty coach and receive two academic credits that count toward the spring semester.

For more information on the trial team, visit the National Trial Team web page

Contact Us

Christine Mooney
Director of Professional Skills
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law

"My intensive trial experience on the Villanova Trial Team prepared me well to be an Assistant District Attorney."

- Michelle Stranen, VLS '08