What is the best way to form a successful Mock Trial Team?
The key to forming a successful team is providing a positive, academic-oriented experience for participating students. Participation in Mock Trial should be an experience that allows students to cultivate their appreciation of the justice system, while recognizing the personal responsibilities of citizenship.
Each team must have a minimum of eight students and must not exceed twenty-five participants. The team may be composed of any students currently eligible for high school-sponsored extra-curricular activities.
Another key to success is gathering eager and committed team members. An ability to work well with others is key. Participation in Mock Trial requires a significant commitment from students, Teacher Sponsors, and Attorney Coaches. The hours can be long, but the experience is always stimulating. Students bond deeply, support each other, and become loyal friends.
Is there a simple recipe for a successful team?
Yes. Practice. Practice. Practice.
Practices should be scheduled at a time that is convenient for students, Teacher Sponsors, and Attorney Coaches. The length of each practice is up to you. It primarily depends on the attention span of the students and the schedules of the parties involved. Two hours weekly is the minimum recommended practice time. The number of meetings per week depends purely on how effective and efficient your team is during each practice. Most teams practice 5 to 10 hours per week, and have separate practices for trial v. pre-trial attorneys.
Teams that do not meet as regular classes will have to choose between afternoon, evening, and weekend practice schedules. Having a regular time frame enables the best planning for all and may allow mock trial students to also participate in athletics or music programs. Most importantly, make it fun!
Do videos exist to assist students to prepare?
The Constitutional Rights Foundation has created a series of videos to assist students in preparing for the Mock Trial Competition. Video topics include preparing a team for mock trial, team orientation, and the role of the clerk and bailiff. Specific subject areas are also discussed, including hearsay, objections, relevance, and many other topics. You may look for these helpful videos and other materials on the resource page.
How Do I Dress for Success in the Mock Trial Competition?
Students are asked to wear courtroom appropriate attire. However, no student is required to purchase any specific attire in order to participate.
Some students select clothing they already have (such as a shirt, tie, blazer or jacket, dress, skirt or pantsuit), or they borrow such clothing from others (friends, relatives or other team supporters).
Some teams fundraise to purchase their selected courtroom attire while other teams request assistance from local legal and paralegal groups to assist them in acquiring select wardrobe items (gathered from closet clean-outs by local professionals or otherwise).
Past participant surveys have shown that the students enjoy dressing and looking the part, be it as attorneys, witnesses or other roles. Provided that clothing otherwise comports with courthouse rules, students are free to select their own style of attire. As an example, some teams have chosen to wear matching color-coordinated attire. However, this is not required nor encouraged. No clothing should identify any particular school as school identities are withheld from scorers and judges.
There should be no required type of outfit by a team which might prevent any student’s participation. Participating in mock trial is not like serving as a bridesmaid in a wedding – no one should be required to purchase an outfit they are likely to never wear again!
New Attorney Coaches and/or Teacher Sponsors should discuss wardrobe questions with veteran attorney coaches or Teacher Sponsors as soon as possible.
To date, no team or student has been unable to solve their wardrobe concerns in advance of the competition (with or without assistance from the program). Remember – the program is run by volunteers, and there is no wardrobe fund or stipend available.
Any suggestions on how practices should run?
It is best to identify the role each person will portray early on, so as not to create confusion. It will also help practices run smoothly. If a role does not fit a student, be willing to make changes and adjustments for the benefit of the team. Trial attorneys should decide who will be making the opening and closing arguments and which witnesses they will be questioning. Trial attorneys need to be as familiar with their witnesses’ testimony as the witness is. This is not to say that they only need to be familiar with their own witness. Each trial attorney must understand the testimony of all of the witnesses. Have the trial attorneys look at their witness testimony from both the prosecution and defense point of view. This will help them be able to counter possible opposition strategies and be on the lookout for obstacles. It is also helpful to have the witnesses look at their statements from an attorney’s point of view. They will know their role best, and thus are the most qualified to help the trial attorneys in preparing their testimony.
During some of the practice times, have the prosecution and defense teams practice separately, rehearsing the questioning of witnesses and the delivery of opening statements and closing arguments.
It is a good idea to have both prosecution and defense pre-trial attorneys meet to discuss possible arguments for each side and to practice rebuttals. They must know the relevant case law – flash cards work well. Prepare for the exclusion of evidence, no matter how small the probability. Being caught without a backup plan can be devastating to the overall performance of the team. Have students ready in understudy roles for unexpected illnesses or last minute unavailability.
During joint practices, conduct a complete mock trial. This will give both the prosecution and defense a chance to practice objections. Practice is the only way students will become proficient in objecting and countering objections. Have the trial attorneys make objections to questions, even if trivial. Often the attorneys will be able to get around objections either by re-wording the question or by argument (particularly to the hearsay rule). Students should also watch the opposition to observe possible strategies. Make sure to allow time for the prosecution to make comments on the strategy of the defense and vice-versa. Make sure the students know and understand the applicable rules of evidence that apply during the Competition.
It is important to time each practice. Leave a buffer for unexpected delays or redirects at the trial. The student trial attorneys shouldn’t have to ask for the time remaining during the trial. They need to have a general sense of how long each witness’ testimony takes. They also need to be able to know when to raise objections to the other team’s timing, should there be a significant discrepancy.
Some teams hold scrimmages before the actual competition with other competing schools which they arrange on their own. That is a good way to gauge the strength and weaknesses of your team. Please do not select other judges/attorneys for the scrimmages unless they are made aware that they will not be able to serve as judges/attorney scorers during the actual competition.
During the actual competition, it is also helpful to hold a debriefing the day after your team competes to discuss what went well and what the team can improve upon before the next round. Read and understand the scoring criteria and applicable rules of evidence. The goal is not to repeatedly object to the presentation of the other team, but to use objections only when necessary. The focus should be on presenting the case to the fact-finder, the presiding judicial officer, who will render the final verdict.
2020 Competition Questions
Shouldn’t a witness be able to testify to what they would reasonably know from the fact situation?
A witness can only testify from their own witness statement and any portion of the fact situation, stipulations, and exhibits of which that witness would reasonably have knowledge.