Mock trial is an extracurricular activity offered in many high schools and colleges nationwide. Participating students are provided with different “case materials” each year and must work with peers at their schools to develop solid case theories for both the prosecution/plaintiff and defense sides. When it comes time for competitions, students face off in trials against teams from other schools, with each school being represented by hree attorneys and three witnesses. Students present their opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations, and closing arguments in front of a judge.
All of this might seem like something that should only appeal to someone who intends to go to law school, but I’ve been competing in mock trial for five years with no intention of going to law school. Here’s why it’s a good idea:
- Public Speaking Skills
Whether you act the part of an attorney speaking to the jury or a witness taking the stand, mock trial provides you with ample opportunities to improve your public speaking skills. By the time I graduated high school, my mock trial coach told me that there was an immense, obvious difference in my public speaking skills then versus when I’d started out on the team as a freshman. I was shy, quiet, and lacked the confidence to have a major voice on the team. Now, I’m a freshman in college but already an essential witness on the Gettysburg College mock trial team, where I’ve won two outstanding witness awards just at my first competition.
- Practice Thinking on Your Feet
In the courtroom, things often don’t go as planned. This is true whether you’re an attorney, facing an unexpected objection from opposing counsel that you must now argue against to the judge, or as a witness, being asked potentially damaging questions on a cross examination that you have to carefully explain away to the jury. Learning to quickly form logical arguments and choose careful wording is a valuable skill in any career discipline.
When you’re preparing for mock trial competitions, attorneys and witnesses must work together closely to determine how they can best present the case to the jury so that their side will appear more favorably. This alone develops cooperation skills. However, mock trial takes those cooperation skills to the next level: during trials, witnesses and attorneys can’t communicate with each other, except for when the witness is on the stand and the attorney is asking questions that the witness answers for the jury. This means that if some unexpected developments occur during the trial, the witness and attorney must be able to work together to adapt the questions and answers. That requires a great degree of trust and understanding between the two people.
- Synthesizing Sources to Create Effective Arguments
The mock trial case materials consist of witness affadavits, rules of evidence, exhibits, etc. It is up to the students to determine how they can use everything they’ve been given to create the story of what happened for the jury. They must decide which exhibits to enter with which witnesses. In college, you must even decide which witnesses to call to the stand. When dealing with opposing teams, you must quickly figure out which case materials contradict their version of the story and make your own look better, then determine a way to introduce those materials to the jury. Overall, there are no easy answers in mock trial, and everything depends on how you synthesize your sources to support your arguments.
- It’s Incredibly Rewarding When You Put in the Work
If you and your teammates put in the time and effort to develop strong case theory and arguments, the rewards can be incredible. It’s thrilling to sit on the witness stand and confidently contradict everything the opposing attorney tries to get you to admit. It’s thrilling to hear a judge sustain your objection as an attorney, or shoot down the opposing attorney’s objection because of your argument. It’s thrilling to watch your teammates perform to the best of their abiltiies. It’s thrilling to win a trial. And most thrilling of all is realizing that mock trial has given you friends, an activity to be passionate about, and a way to develop so many useful lifelong skills.
Public speaking, improvisation, teamwork, and synthesizing arguments are all skills that you can learn in mock trial, and they’re all valuable far beyond the realm of law school. Furthermore, it’s incredibly satisfying to see all of your hard work pay off when you win a trial. High schools and colleges alike offer this opportunity, so I hope you’ll consider taking advantage of it and seeing for yourself just how thrilling the courtroom can be!