Rajesh  Kanuru
Rajesh Kanuru

March Madness isn’t the only tournament starting this week.

For four straight days at the Daley Center beginning Thursday, 16 student trial advocacy teams will square off in the Chicago regional of the national Student Trial Advocacy Competition (STAC).

“The kids really love this stuff,” said Rajesh Kanuru, a founding partner of KP Law LLC. “They were not just interested in this to pad their resume. They look at this as a way to develop their skills.”

After spending a few years as a volunteer judge, Kanuru took a leadership role, sponsoring and organizing the Chicago regional.

“It’s going to sound kind of sappy, but for me, it’s a reflection point,” he said. “When you see these kids, it reminds me of when I was in law school. From that perspective, it’s nice to see them. It gets us re-energized because these students have so much enthusiasm.”

The Chicago regional includes two teams from defending regional champion IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law and two from Northern Illinois University College of Law, University of Illinois College of Law and The John Marshall Law School. Loyola University Chicago School of Law and Northwestern University School of Law are each sending one team.

Rounding out the Chicago field are two teams each from University of Wisconsin Law School and Minnesota law schools University of St. Thomas and William Mitchell.

For U. of I. coach and adjunct professor Miranda L. Soucie, the competition is an opportunity to help students build the foundation of their courtroom careers.

“To get to see them come from the initial stages where they’re barely able to make it through an opening statement to the end of the semester being completely poised and professional and being able to represent our state and our school in these national competitions — it’s really rewarding,” said Soucie, a partner at Spiros Law P.C. in Champaign.

That’s the hope of third-year Northwestern student Anne Yonover. She is pursuing a career in criminal prosecution.

“I think (participating) will help me get a job because it has allowed me to develop skills that are directly transferable to the skills that are necessary to be a good trial attorney,” she said.

STAC is hosted annually by the American Association for Justice, formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. The national competition is comprised of 14 regions: Atlanta; Boston; Buffalo, N.Y.; Cleveland; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Houston; Louisville, Ky.; New York; Omaha, Neb.; Raleigh, N.C.; Santa Monica, Calif.; Seattle; Washington, D.C.; and Chicago.

Winners of each region will then compete April 16 to 19 in Pittsburgh.

The regionals consist of three trials per team with teams alternating between plaintiff and defense work. Judges for the Sunday morning final include 1st District Appellate Justice Jesse G. Reyes.

Kanuru is looking for more lawyers to join Reyes at the judges table. Chicago currently has 61 volunteer judges, with openings for 15 more on Friday night from 6 to 9 p.m. and 10 more on Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon.

The other competitions run Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Those interested in participating or simply attending can e-mail Kanuru at rkanuru@kplawonline.com.

And for those lawyers who do volunteer, KP Law is hosting a gathering Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Mid-America Club, 200 E. Randolph Drive.

“It’s our firm’s way of thanking everybody,” Kanuru said.

Getting involved is Kanuru’s way of staying fresh, too.

“As trial attorneys, a lot of times we’re just sitting in the battlefields,” he said. “We’re doing litigation day in and day out. So this helps us appreciate what we’re doing and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”