Barristers’ Union Prize Trial Finalists Argue Insider Trading Case

participants in the 2023 Barristers’ Union Prize Trial
From left to right: Maria Mendoza ’25, Sarah Shapiro ’25, Scott Hartman ’10, Nola Heller ’04, Judge Ronnie Abrams ’93, Dani James ’95, Remington Hill ’25, and Sahil Alim ’25.

Yale Law School students Remington Hill ’25 and Sarah Shapiro ’25 took top honors in the 2023 Barristers’ Union Prize Trial, held April 20. The competition took place at the Law School and was the first fully in-person prize trial since 2019.

The prize trial is the culmination of the annual mock trial competition hosted by the Thomas Swan Barristers’ Union at Yale. This year’s trial was held before Judge Ronnie Abrams ’93 of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. Abrams was joined by three distinguished alumni jurors: Dani James ’95, Partner and Co-Chair of the White-Collar Investigations Practice at Kramer Levin & Naftalis LLP; Nola Heller ’04, Partner and Co-Chair of the White Collar Practice and Cahill Gordon and Reindel LLP; and Scott Hartman ’10, Chief of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.

Four students — Hill, Shapiro, Maria Mendoza ’25, and Sahil Alim ’25 — were named prize trial finalists. Following a fierce trial and lengthy deliberations, Abrams and the jury collectively awarded Hill the John Fletcher Caskey Prize for best presentation of a case on final trial. Shapiro was awarded the John Currier Gallagher Prize for the most proficient presentation of a case on final trial.

Since the 1930s, the Thomas Swan Barristers’ Union has sponsored one of the Law School’s oldest traditions: a school-wide trial competition. Students act as attorneys and present the prosecution or defense side of a criminal case in a simulated jury trial. As part of the trial, students perform pretrial motions, opening statements, direct and cross-examinations, and closing arguments. The competition concludes with two semifinal rounds and the prize trial, over which federal judges and other distinguished alumni-litigators typically preside.

The 2023 semifinal rounds were held before 2001 Caskey Prize winner and current federal Judge John Cronan ’01 of the Southern District of New York and Visiting Lecturer in Law David M. Zornow ’80, founder of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP’s white collar practice.

This year’s competitors argued United States v. Jordan Belfort, the first insider trading case in Barristers’ Union history. The government alleged that Belfort, the CEO of a major car company, tipped a friend in advance of a secret and market-moving private investment. Belfort conceded that she shared the information but insisted that she trusted the friend to refrain from trading on the information.

In the prize trial, Shapiro and Mendoza represented the government and Hill and Alim represented defendant Belfort. The trial featured several colorful witnesses, including a hippie-inspired cooperating witness, a snarky investigator, a Southern businessman, and a teary defendant who elicited laughs and sympathy from the audience. The prize trial drew a large crowd of spectators, with even the youngest supporter — a sixth-month-old baby — mesmerized by the competition.

“This year’s competition was fierce,” said Ayesha Durrani ’24, Barristers’ Board member and 2022 Gallagher Prize winner. “The Barristers’ Board was absolutely blown away by the quality of the oral advocacy demonstrated by all of this year’s competitors — especially our semifinalists and finalists, who are incredibly talented.”

The Barristers’ Union is unique among law school competitions in that it is entirely student-run; each year’s board is composed of the prior year’s prize trial finalists. The 2023 Board consisted of Pragya Malik ’24, Jaewon Kim ’24, and Ayesha Durrani ’24.

“Pragya, Jaewon, and Ayesha are some of the best advocates we have here at YLS, and I can’t imagine a better group of folks to mentor the next generation,” said Nick Barile ’23, 2021 Caskey winner. “They’ve done an amazing job ensuring that Barristers’ continues to serve as YLS’ most important litigation training ground.”

This year’s four finalists will take the reins and organize next year’s competition.