Published on April 4, 2023 by Morgan Black
Samford University Cumberland School of Law’s National Trial Team continues to excel during the 2022-23 competition season. Two teams traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, to compete in the national finals of the American Association of Justice’s (AAJ) Student Trial Advocacy Competition (STAC), March 30-April 2. Both Cumberland teams finished the competition ranked in the top five in the nation—one ranking second and one ranking fifth.
The AAJ’s Student Trial Advocacy Competition is the second oldest and largest law school national trial competition in the country, with 160 teams from over 120 law schools competing. In early March, Cumberland’s teams swept the Southeast Two Regional event, making Cumberland one of only three law schools to have two teams who earned bids to the national finals. During the nationals, 20 teams competed for the AAJ STAC National Championship.
The team of advocates Ashlan Kelley and Riley Kate Lancaster and witnesses Zach Chiepalich and Chloe Patterson reached the National Championship round and finished second in the nation. On their way to reaching the final round, Kelley and Lancaster defeated teams from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law, Howard University School of Law and the University of Akron School of Law in the preliminary rounds. They then defeated South Texas College of Law in the quarterfinals and NYU School of Law in the semifinals, improving their record to 10-0 before their defeat in the final round to UCLA School of Law, which secured their second-place finish.
The team of advocates Jake Blalock and Samantha Breland Mullinix and witnesses Hannah Dillashaw and Hannah Maynor were national quarterfinalists and finished fifth in the nation. Blalock and Mullinix defeated UCLA School of Law and the University of Colorado Law School in the preliminary rounds before narrowly losing to Chicago-Kent College of Law in the quarterfinals.
The teams were coached by Julie McMakin, J.D. ’09; Michael Eldridge, J.D. ’12; Curtis Seal, J.D. ’17; and Isabella Colombo, J.D. ’20, who were enthusiastic about the students’ success.
“Having one team finish as the national finalist and one team finish as a national quarterfinalist is an incredible accomplishment,” Seal said. “We are extremely proud of both teams’ success and equally as proud of how they represented our program. We want our students to be the best lawyers in the courtroom when they start practicing and that is exactly what these students will be.”
Eldridge noted the difficulty of this accomplishment. He said, “Having two groups of Cumberland students finish in the top five of 160 law school teams is a testament to not only how talented these students are, but the amount of work and dedication each of them puts into this competition. The entire university should be proud of what they accomplished and the people and lawyers they have become.”
Judge Jim Roberts, J.D. ’94, Cumberland School of Law’s director of National Trial Teams, commended the teams’ hard work, professionalism and success. He said, “This is an amazing accomplishment that highlights not only the talent of our students and coaches but also the culture of the program which is founded on the principle of service to others by preparing out students to represent real people with real problems in the most ethical manner. Throughout the weekend, we received countless compliments on the talent and professionalism of our students. I could not be prouder of them or our coaches for the way they represented our program and our school.”
Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference, and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.