PUBLISHED:March 27, 2024

Mock Trial Board reaches semi-finals, wins individual awards at February competitions


Students honed their legal skills as aspiring trial lawyers by competing in two national mock trial tournaments.

six students standing together in front of statue for photo Matt Queen '24, Margaret Kruzner '24, Johanna Crisman '25, Amy Hartzell JD/LLM ’24, Paige Brasington ’24, and Mark Usatinsky ’24

This February, the Duke Law Mock Trial Board competed in the Texas Young Lawyers Association (TYLA) National Trial Competition and John L. Costello National Criminal Law Trial Advocacy Competition, with students winning awards at the TYLA competition. This year counts as the group’s first appearance at the Costello competition, as well.

The Mock Trial Board is a student-run organization that provides students with opportunities to develop their skills by participating in mock trial competitions at both the intra- and inter-scholastic levels. First- and second-year students are eligible to join and represent the Law School in interscholastic tournaments, such as the TYLA and Costello competitions, throughout the country.

Board members competed at the TYLA competition in Williamsburg, Va., from Feb. 2-4. Margaret Kruzner ’24 won the Best Opening Statement Award and Mark Usatinsky ’24 won the Best Opening Statement Award. The competition challenged participants to quickly adapt while questioning unpredictable witnesses. Though they were given a few weeks to prepare their cases, students were only allowed 15 minutes to prepare their witnesses on the day of the competition. Teamwork, Kruzner said, proved to be key.

“Trial lawyers should collaborate to get the best results for their clients. Practicing that teamwork with [Matt Queen ’24] and [ Johanna Crisman ’25] at TYLA was an incredible way to prepare for my future litigation career,” Kruzner said, “Right before I delivered my cross-examination, Matt passed several ideas and exhibits to me. I credit my success to his quick thinking and Jo’s contributions before the round.”

side view of two students, one sitting at table and one standing
Mary-Grace Rees ’25 and Aysia Slade ’24 at the Costello competition

Thomas Fogarty ’24 , president of Mock Trial Board, called the TYLA competition a “huge success for the Board” and “one we hope to repeat next year,” giving special thanks to Crisman, Queen, and fellow competitors Paige Brasington ’24 and Amy Hartzell JD/LLM ’24 for their contributions to the group’s success.

The following weekend, from Feb. 8-11, the Mock Trial Board’s two-person team–Mary-Grace Rees ’25 and Aysia Slade ’24– attended the Costello competition at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School in Arlington, Va. Students were called on to quickly adapt to new circumstances throughout the event, including rapid-fire rounds that added new facts to the case packet and forced teams to swiftly adjust their theories.

Rees and Slade made a formidable team and placed as semi-finalists in the tournament. Rees said, “Participating in this competition was a fun experience that allowed me to try out a more realistic form of witness preparation. Aysia was the best co-counsel I could have asked for, and I am very grateful to Amy Hartzell, Melana Dayanim [’25], and Chelsea Nielsen [JD/MEM ’25] for their help in our preparation.”

Fogarty said, “This tournament required a lot of work from our competitors and is an especially notable feat considering that we’ve never attended this tournament before.”

Hartzell took on coaching duties for the teams competing at the TYLA and Costello competitions. “Amy acted as a point of contact for the tournament, instructed the teams in how to compete, and even competed herself. Our success would not have been possible without her,” Fogarty said.

To join the Mock Trial Board, 1Ls and 2Ls must be among the highest-scoring participants in the annual Duke Law Mock Trial Tournament, known as the Twiggs-Beskind Cup. This intra-scholastic competition is held annually during the spring semester. During their tenure on the Board, each member is required either to serve as an officer or to compete in an interscholastic tournament each year they are on the Board. The Mock Trial Board is led by an Executive Board composed of a president, vice president, Twiggs-Beskind Cup coordinators, interscholastic competition coordinator, and treasurer.

two students for photo
Rees and Slade