The Black Law Student Association chapter at the UA Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law recently competed in the National Black Law Student Association‘s Constance Baker Motley Mock Trial Competition. The competition took place Jan. 10-23 and was part of the southwest region of the Black Law Student Association’s Regional Convention.
Bowen’s team consisted of second-year students Shyteria Dunlap, Ashley Pratt, Cassius Price, and Tashia Sowell. Dunlap and Pratt competed as defense counsel. Price and Sowell competed as plaintiff’s counsel. Bobby Forrest Jr. the managing partner of the King & Forrest Law Group, LLP, of Jacksonville, Arkansas, coached the team.
This was the first time any of the members had competed in a trial competition. The team finished fourth out of eight teams in the regional competition, missing the national rounds by less than one point.
“Which was amazing,” Price said. “Only one of us had taken lawyering skills and Ashley, who was in the part-time division at the time, hadn’t taken evidence. She had to learn as she prepared for competition.”
The team received the problem, a civil matter related to a self-driving car accident and the death of the driver, in late October. They completed an in-person run-through of the trial the week before fall semester finals. Their coach surprised them by inviting Dominique King, his law partner and a Bowen alumna, as a guest judge.
“The run-through gave us a good idea of what we needed to strengthen and how to structure our practices,” Price said.
After that meeting, the team practiced and prepared each Saturday morning on Zoom during the fall semester final exams and over the holiday break. Each side argued against the other to keep it as realistic as possible.
“Practices were very informative,” Sowell said. “Bobby gave great feedback and tips for skill-building. He really helped improve my trial strategy.”
The team rehearsed a different part of the trial during each practice session. Then, as the competition neared, they put everything together and practiced the entire trial.
Using Zoom for practices also helped them prepare because the competition was held virtually. This allowed the students to familiarize themselves with using online technology for presenting at trial as well as preparing for any technical issues that might arise.
“Using Zoom in class helped in that we were familiar with communicating in a virtual forum,” Dunlap said. “However, since there is no screen sharing in class, we didn’t have experience presenting evidence virtually.”
The team was quick to credit those who helped them prepare. BLSA President Altimease Lowe made them aware of the competition and recruited the team. Lethia Washington, a third-year student at Bowen who is on the law school’s trial team, helped with skill development. Professor Robert Minarcin, the director of Bowen’s lawyering skills program and trial team, included the team in his lawyering skills workshops and made himself available for questions at all hours — even during the competition.
The students were most grateful to their coach. Forrest, who is a Jacksonville native, attended law school at Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. He competed on the BLSA trial team there.
“Marshall practices for trial the same way players practice football—every day,” Forrest said. “It is very competitive.”
Forrest met Bowen’s current BLSA leadership when, as a student, he was serving as a national BLSA officer coordinating the national convention. The year he served, the convention was held at Bowen.
With his experience as a competitor and his practice experience in trial work, he was excited to coach the team.
“I had a great time,” Forrest said. “What made it wonderful was how well the students took feedback. They want to be trial lawyers, and they want to learn.”
The entire team is returning to compete next year, and they’re determined to make it to the finals. They also plan to make this competition a tradition for their chapter. They’ve even begun recruiting for a second team.
“I have no doubt that they’ll place next year,” Forrest said. “They were naturals at this.”
Trial team members
Shyteria Dunlap is originally from Memphis, Tennessee. Before law school, she earned her graduate degree in education and worked as a teacher. She always planned to teach and attend law school. Dunlap hopes to combine her education background with her legal skills to work in juvenile law and criminal defense. She is currently working as a legal assistant at The Buchanan Firm P.A. and attending law school at night. Her favorite parts of competing include impeaching a witness and delivering the closing argument.
Ashley Pratt is originally from Mississippi, where she was on her high school mock trial team. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in criminal justice from the University of Mississippi. Before coming to law school, Pratt worked at the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the U.S. Probation and Pretrial Office. She is currently clerking at the James Law Firm. Her favorite part of competing is participating rather than observing.
Cassius Price is originally from Atlanta, Georgia. While attending Morehouse College, he was a volunteer for the Georgia Innocence Project, where he helped build cases doing everything from interviews to evidence collection. Price has clerked for Arkansas Public Defender Commission and is currently clerking at the Pulaski County Public Defender’s Office. His favorite parts of competing are testing his knowledge of the case and actually applying what he’s learned thus far in law school.
Tashia Sowell is originally from Glastonbury, Connecticut. While personal experiences inspired her to study law, her desire to be a change-agent in communities led to her interest in criminal law. Sowell is currently clerking at the Office of the Arkansas Attorney General in the Criminal Department. She is also a student in Bowen’s Mediation Clinic. Her favorite parts of competing include making her opening statement and placing some emphasis and emotion behind what she’d practiced as well as feeling the satisfaction of attacking witnesses’ reliability on cross-examination.