Mock Trial – American Idol for Law Students

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My law school mock trial experience was a lot like American Idol. I participated as a competitor, a competition director, and an emergency substitute judge. As in all competitions, there can really only be one winner. However, like American Idol, there are opportunities for the prematurely departing Jennifer Hudsons to get as much, if not more publicity and opportunities than the Fantasia Barrinos of the competition (or Ruben and Clay, if you will).

As a judge, I observed the William Hungs 1 of the competition “she bang” their way through direct and cross examinations. I’ve also seen the Kelly Clarksons who always appeared to be pitch perfect with just the right amount of personal style. Competitors run the gamut. Whichever Idol you are best aligned, there is always room for self-improvement and chances to learn how to handle yourself under pressure. Given that, here are my takeaways for students debating whether to step into the wonderful world of mock trial and why you should jump in with both feet.

Public Speaking and Oratory Skills

English: An attorney impeaching a witness duri...

English: An attorney impeaching a witness during a mock trial competition. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage.” Mock trial is the educational equivalent. It’s 1/6 style, 1/6 acting, and 2/3 substance. Everyone gets to do a monologue in the form of an opening or closing statement. Mock Trial affords students the opportunity to tell compelling stories based on well-crafted theories, otherwise designed to persuade an audience that your theory is correct. Even if you don’t want to eventually practice as a trial lawyer, this is an invaluable skill to have as an attorney or in those everyday friendly disagreements. Use mock trial to work on crafting an argument, practice effective storytelling, and learn how to command the room with your presence and delivery.

Evidence Practice

Evidence is tested on every bar exam. Late at night when you are doing objection drills with your mock trial team, you will learn the ins and outs of evidence. It’ll be you and your team searching for ways to keep evidence out of trial or make something admissible based on the Federal Rules of Evidence. The silver lining? You will be more prepared to tackle the 20+ exceptions on the multistate bar exam. The practical application of the rules of evidence will lend substance to any evidence course you take and deepen your understanding of the intricacies that cause other students to pull out their hair.

Criminal Procedure Practice

Crim Pro is also on the multi-state bar exam. Any good criminal law-based mock trial problem will introduce you to most issues you’ll come across in a criminal procedure class or on the bar exam — 4th Amendment Search and Seizure…5th Amendment Miranda…6th Amendment Right to Counsel — just to scratch the surface. You’ll do much more research in these areas than you would just reading cases out of your class casebook.

Team Work

There is no “I” in team. Although the world is a stage, mock trial is certainly not a solo performance. Learn to work and argue amicably with your teammates as you hash out your team’s theories of the case, style, and performance issues. You’ll flesh out case strategies, arguments, and theories with your partner and provide feedback to your teammates. You’ll probably learn to think through complex legal issues, motions, and objections on your feet. Sometimes you’ll BS your way out of a verbal jam and often sit back amused while others do the same.

Networking Opportunities

You may not be the next Phillip Phillips 2 of mock trial, but being a Jessica Sanchez or Joshua Ledet 3 will still get you far in life. Standing out doesn’t mean winning. I’ve rubbed elbows with quite a few mock trial judges in my day. Many of these mock trial judges are often actual judges or prosecutors. They always want to know who the “stand outs” are after the competition is over.  Why do they ask? Job opportunities. If you come to play you may not win, but you’ll learn valuable information tested on the bar exam, become a better public orator, and gain exposure to and impress movers and shakers in the legal profession.

The mock trial experience is about the practical application of what you learn in law school and applying it to real world scenarios. Whether or not you’ve always dreamt of being a trial lawyer, take full advantage of an opportunity to develop skills you would not otherwise.

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Notes:

  1. William Hung is a contestant from the third season of American Idol. There are no words for his performance. You should Google it. Needless to say, he did not make it to the Hollywood round.
  2. Phillip Phillips is the season 11 American Idol winner and singer of the single “Home” which peaked at number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.
  3. Jessica Sanchez and Joshua Ledet are the runners up on season 11 of American Idol. They have both had their own success despite not winning the competition.
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K. Suzette Akins

K. Suzette Akins

Managing Editor at Blueprint JD
K. Suzette Akins is a 2011 graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law. She works in the Commonwealth of Virginia's judicial system and serves as Blueprint JD's managing editor.

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