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What is Mock Trial?

2022 State Mock Trial Competition Championship Round

11/27/2016, By Lydia Tahraoui

For students passionate about the law, public speaking, or problem solving, Mock Trial can be an extremely fulfilling extracurricular activity to pursue. Each year, thousands of students prepare legal cases that they then present, as a team, in front of a judge. This process lends itself to the development of many crucial skills, from teamwork, to critical analysis, to writing, and beyond.

As such, joining your high school Mock Trial team can be a worthwhile pursuit. Is Mock Trial a good fit for you? In this blog post, we’ll give you a comprehensive overview of what being part of a high school Mock Trial team entails to help you decide whether Mock Trial is the right activity for you.

What is Mock Trial?

Essentially, Mock Trial is more or less what it sounds like: High school students act out a civil or criminal trial by arguing for either the prosecution or defense side against another team, which acts as the opposing side. Mock Trial is available for different age groups and education levels, including at the high school, undergraduate, and law school levels. However, in this blog post, we will be addressing Mock Trial specifically as a high school extracurricular activity.

What does Mock Trial entail?

The process begins with the distribution of case booklet, which is provided by a given state’s Mock Trial Association. This case booklet contains all pertinent details about the fictional case students will be arguing for or against, including witness statements, pre-trial stipulations, exhibits, and more.

The case booklet also contains strict guidelines that teams must abide by. Every Mock Trial team in that specific state will be arguing this same case, using only the case booklet; any outside sources are not allowed, in order to ensure each team is competing on equal footing.

Students then work with their team to develop cases for both the prosecution and defense sides; come competition time, they will have to be prepared to present both arguments. Each side will appoint students who will take on the roles of trial attorneys, witnesses, and pre-trial attorneys, in addition to one bailiff and one timekeeper. They will work together as a team to craft a strong, comprehensive, well-developed case that they will later present in competition.

Mock trial is a highly structured activity. There are certain parts of the trial that all teams must go through, such as opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations, closing arguments, and more.

All the components of the trial are strictly timed, and as such, students must be able to think quickly on their feet and communicate their points in a succinct yet effective manner. The exact time limits imposed on each aspect of the trial vary from state to state, so it is a good idea to check what regulations your specific state follows.

Some aspects of your case will likely be prepared in advance. For example, opening statements, which begin the trial, are usually scripted and rehearsed well before the actual competition. Additionally, attorneys will generally thoroughly review their direct examinations on witnesses from their own side.

However, other parts of your case must be developed on the fly, and change based on what the other team does throughout the course of the trial. Cross examinations on witnesses from the other side must respond to material brought up during the course of the opposing side’s direct examination, as do re-direct examinations.

Furthermore, closing arguments, which conclude the trial, must respond to the trial in its totality in order to pull together your side’s case and refute any material that may threaten the strength of your overall argument. As such, a strong Mock Trial participant must be able to think quickly on their feet.

Teams will generally thoroughly practice and build their case for several weeks or even months before competing. This includes team practices, scrimmages, and independent work on the case. Then, the actual competition begins with teams going up against other local schools. Usually, these competitions are organized according to county; however, this tends to vary depending on your specific location.

Successful teams may then advance to state-level or even national-level tournaments. However, it is important to note that not every state currently participates in the national tournament. Additionally, one should note that the national Mock Trial competition follows a completely different case booklet, meaning that successful teams will have to build a new case from scratch.

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