Courtesy of the Schuman Family

March 15, 2023

Eliot Schuman Celebrated for Dedication to Mock Trial Team

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By day, Eliot Schuman ’75 is a trial lawyer and a partner at Delbello Donnellan Weingarten Wise and Wiederkehr LLP, but by night he is a volunteer coach for the Cornell Mock Trial Team and has been since spring of the 2014-2015 school year. 

Scouted out by Laura Bach ’16, Schuman has been involved with the team on an entirely volunteer and unpaid basis, helping the mockers improve to new levels over the past nine years. The team has competed at the National Championships five times, and seven members have earned All-American, while Schuman has been coach.

To celebrate his 70th birthday and commemorate the dedication and commitment he has for the Mock Trial team, The Sun interviewed past and current members of the team and his family. 

In 2015, the team hosted their annual Big Red Invitational Classic, and Schuman was one of the judges. Bach — a member of the team at the time — said that she approached Schuman after the competition to ask for him to be their coach because she liked how constructive and helpful his feedback was. 

“Eliot was the first qualified lawyer to help out [with the] Cornell Mock Trial and the only coach who loved the team like I did,” Bach said. “I had tried to bring in a lot of coaches who either were unqualified or didn’t respect the team or its students. Eliot, though, was different.”

According to his family — Heidi Schuman, Rachael Schuman ’13 and Paul Schuman ’17 —  Schuman cares most about  the students and team and only wants to see them succeed. He has devoted much of his time and energy to this team: driving up to Ithaca almost every other weekend from Westchester, New York during mock trial season, traveling with the members to attend every competition with his own money and calling the students everyday. Schuman does this because he wants to. 

“I also think it’s hard to overstate how generous it is for someone with a career and a family, who lives [over] four hours away, to give up their weekends and weekdays to come in and spend that time coaching a bunch of kids they don’t even know,” Bach said. “And that’s not even taking into account the phone calls and emails we’d be exchanging over the week in preparation for tournaments or his visits. Just the time he donated to the team is really incredible.”

Schuman’s love for the University goes beyond Mock Trial. According to his family, Schuman is also a Cornell athletics fan — following everything from basketball to football to lacrosse and keeping track of the statistics of the players and teams from front to back. 

“Yes, mock trial is very important [to him]. But his love for Cornell is out of control,” his son said. “He follows Cornell basketball, hockey, football, baseball and lacrosse so religiously. And that came about when my sister and myself went to Cornell, not as much when he was going to Cornell. Then when we went [to Cornell] he had this newfound respect and love. His love for Cornell is insane, it’s incredible.” 

During his junior year at Cornell, Schuman made the choice not to study abroad, as many Cornellians often do. Instead he took the full year to get his teaching degree at SUNY New Paltz. 

“If he didn’t become a lawyer, which I also think he was born to be, teaching is his passion,” Rachael Schuman said. “So it’s very natural why he loves doing this.”

According to his family, Schuman has helped develop the A, B and C teams of mock trial by coaching all of them. In the past, the B and C team would be a backup for A, only on a self-coached basis, but now all three groups qualified for semifinals.  

“When it comes to approaching our competitions, he has a way of teaching critical thinking and analysis that is not only captivating, but also helps all of us students reach our full potential,” wrote Edgar O’Connell ’23, new member educator of Mock Trial, in an email to The Sun. 

In the 2017-2018 season, two teams competed at the National Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where one team tied for ninth place and the other for fourth place. Cornell was one of only two collegiate programs in the country that had two teams placed in the top ten.   

Then, during the 2018-2019 season, one team tied for third place at the National Championships in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is the highest-placed finish since Schuman began coaching at Cornell. 

This season, the C team qualified for the Opening Round Championship Series Tournament before the A and B teams, Heidi Schuman said. Since all three teams eventually qualified, and Cornell could only bring two groups, the mockers revamped their two teams to be positioned to find success. Unfortunately, Cornell did not meet the necessary points and narrowly missed out on Nationals by 0.5 of a point, but this tournament marks a vast improvement compared to the last couple of years. 

Jimmy Pinchak ’18 J.D. ’21 said that Schuman has brought so much success to this team because he advises his students in a respectful manner, rather than ordering them around. 

“Eliot always treats the students as adults and has always valued their opinion,” Pinchak said. “I think that’s really great, because that’s probably one of the reasons why the team has been so successful — because it’s been a partnership, and people really respect him for that.”

One of Schuman’s main coaching practices is by treating the students with respect and initiating a conversation about ways to approach the cases, according to Pinchak. 

“Eliot shows a great deal of trust to us on the team. Instead of commanding us to do certain things a certain way or limiting our creativity, Eliot facilitates conversations that allow us to be the best versions of ourselves,” O’Connell wrote. “He’s truly an advisory coach as opposed to an authoritarian coach. He lets us lead ourselves and discover our own abilities instead of trying to make us fit into a preconceived box of what a good mock trial is supposed to look like.”

Schuman’s apparent dedication and love for the team is deeply appreciated by students, Pinchak said. But alongside his extensive commitment, he also is the one individual still part of the team following the COVID-19 pandemic. Schuman has encouraged students to strive towards achievements and carry on the methods the team did before the pandemic. 

“Eliot has been an invaluable resource for that, both in terms of institutional knowledge of how it used to be done, but also in terms of setting a high bar and showing what a good argument is and how to do it,” said Mock Trial President Alex Myers ’23. 

Myers echoed the sentiment that all of Schuman’s students — past and present — seemed to express: Schuman cares deeply about the students, always asking about their mental health and maintaining enough perspectives to understand how to better help the team and students. 

Though Schuman’s commitment is extensive, he coaches the team because he loves it. Rachael Schuman added that her father’s devotion to Mock Trial developed on its own, separate from their family’s affiliation to the University.

“It’s also now irrespective of me and my brother, it’s gone beyond the fact that we went to Cornell too, he wasn’t involved in the mock trial [when I was at Cornell]. He was hardly involved at Cornell when I was there,” his daughter said. “This is something he developed later in his life as a true passion project.”