Published on October 18, 2023 by Morgan Black  
The Verdict

Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law is nationally recognized for trial advocacy training and currently ranks 4th in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. The 2023-24 competition season is off to a good start with a team of Cumberland School of Law student advocates securing third place and a Best Advocate Award in The Verdict Trial Competition. 

Students Lauren Briscoe, Christi Smith, Connor Sorrells, Sarah Grace Strength and Heather Adams represented Cumberland School of Law at the competition hosted by UCLA, Oct. 6-8. Smith was the recipient of the Best Advocate Award.  

This success is particularly meaningful for Cumberland’s advocacy program as the students were judged on the merits of the case by lay jurors. The team represented the plaintiff twice against Baylor University School of Law and St. Mary’s School of Law, and the defendant twice against UC Berkeley School of Law and Loyola Law School. Both teams comfortably outpaced the average score for each party, while all teams were trying the same case.  

Visiting director of advocacy programs, Sara Williams, J.D. ’06, said “This accomplishment is a testament to the importance of advocacy in practice and these students’ ability to persuade real jurors.” 

The team was coached by a trio of alumni coaches including Rylee Davis, J.D. ’21, Blake Milner, J.D. ’14, and Matt Woodham, J.D. ’15, assistant director of advocacy programs. 

Davis said, “It was incredible to watch this group of students grow throughout the semester. Four of the five students on this team were first semester trial team members and had no prior national competition experience. While preparing for the competition, it became clear that all five of our students had bought into our team, our program and all the teachings that come along with it. I was incredibly proud of the confidence and control that each of the students established and maintained during trial. The Verdict was a great experience for students to get exposure to what a real jury trial feels like. I am very proud of them for their success in persuading the juries, maintaining their professionalism and obtaining consistently favorable verdicts through each round. I am excited to watch this group continue to grow as advocates, and people, and to see all they accomplish in their trial team and legal careers.” 

This is the second time that Cumberland School of Law has been invited to participate in this unique competition. Cumberland remains one of only two programs to make the final four teams each year.  

Woodham said, “I am so proud of the success that our program has had in this competition. Our success validates the incredible work that our students are doing and the tremendous ability of our coaches to prepare these students to represent real people with real problems.” 

This success continues the excellence of Cumberland School of Law’s storied advocacy program. In addition to the current U.S. News & World Report ranking, Cumberland School of Law ranks 3rd in the nation in the Gavel rankings (2nd overall since 2019) and 5th in the nation in the Trial Competition Performance Rankings (4th overall since 2016).

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. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 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.