GW Launches Puerto Rico Competition

Alberto Estrella, JD ‘94 (left), and renowned Puerto Rican attorney William Estrella (right) pose with winners of the first Estrella Trial Advocacy Competition.

GW Law and Estrella LLC co-hosted the first annual Estrella Trial Advocacy Competition in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in April.

Estrella LLC is one of the oldest law firms in Puerto Rico. Alberto Estrella, managing partner of the firm, is a graduate of GW Law. Early in 2012, he contacted David Johnson, assistant dean for pro bono and advocacy programs, about creating the competition to both honor his father William Estrella, the firm’s founder, and provide a learning opportunity for law students in Puerto Rico and around the country.

The only civil litigation competition in Puerto Rico, it featured a case similar to the work Estrella LLC regularly engages in, specifically a commercial establishment’s premises liability case. The case was drafted by three GW Law students, who also served as competition chairs: Meredith Dempsey, Patrick DePoy, and Melissa Woods. Their work was supervised by adjunct faculty member Thomas Simeone.

Each team consisted of four law students, with each student acting as an attorney for the plaintiff or defendant as well as a witness on the other side of the case. Sitting judges and attorneys evaluated the students’ trial advocacy skills, particularly their ability to open or close, conduct direct and cross, handle exhibits, and make objections.

Teams competed once for each party on April 13 at the Nazario Clemente Federal Courthouse in San Juan’s Hato Rey sector. After the two preliminary rounds, there was an evening reception overlooking the San Juan harbor at the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce to announce the four advancing teams. On April 14, the semifinal and final rounds were held at the historic José V. Toledo Federal Courthouse in Old San Juan.

Fourteen universities participated. Even more schools applied, but space was limited. The competition is the newest addition to GW Law’s Advocacy Programs, which now annually hosts 15 competitions in the areas of alternative dispute resolution, mock trials, and moot court.