2Ls Patrick Rooney III and Elise Toscano won this year’s William M. Tendy Federal Criminal Trial Advocacy Competition, the annual internal trial tournament of Fordham Law School’s Brendan Moore Trial Advocacy Center. Toscano also took home the award for Best Advocate.
Preliminary rounds took place in the federal courthouse of the Southern District of New York, and semifinals and finals were held in the Law School’s Gorman Moot Courtroom. The competition featured several prominent judges, including Mary Jo White and Robert Fiske.
Based on a real Massachusetts case, the competition involved the culpability of high school girls who, through a series of text messages, compelled a boy to commit suicide. The competition was an ironman, meaning that teams had to prepare for both defensive and prosecutorial positions. Rooney and Toscano argued for the prosecution side for three of the four rounds.
“The teams were well-prepared and well-coached,” said Rooney of his fellow competitors. But in the end, those competitors could not best him and Toscano.
For seven weeks, the pair had diligently prepared; however, they were not without doubts, at least initially.
“For the first month,” said Toscano, “I felt I was doing everything all wrong.”
The pair overcame their trepidation and learned important skills under the guidance of coaches David O’Brien ’16 and Colleen Powers ’16, who had, while students at the Law School, competed together in the same competition. Toscano explained how, among other skills, the coaches taught her and Rooney to articulate an argument in the heat of the moment, to speak to the judge as a person rather than as an academic, and to reach the “So?” question needed to pin people on the stand.
“The coaches boosted my morale and encouraged me to keep going,” said Toscano.
“They were the best coaches I probably could have asked for,” added Rooney. “I wanted to show them their time commitment was worth it.”
Due to their extensive preparation and helpful coaching, Rooney and Toscano knew how to confront each competition challenge. At one point, for example, Toscano got into a back-and-forth debate with the judge about a hearsay objection, finally realizing that the judge was on her side and wanted to push her to see how far she could go with her argument.
Thrilled with their experiences, and of course with their wins, both Rooney and Toscano recommended that other Fordham Law students partake in trial advocacy competitions.
“Just make sure to allocate your time,” said Rooney. “It’s a huge commitment, but it’s worth it.”
Toscano remarked on how out of the biggest surprises emerge the richest rewards.
“It was valuable to learn that—regardless of the end result—when you are working hard at something, you are growing in some way,” she said.