Organization Profile: Mock Trial

Students interested in legal studies should check out the Mock Trial club, a recent addition to the UIS campus. Founded in October of 2013, the club competed in its first tournament in early 2014.

The competition’s governing body, the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA), founded in 1985, has grown to incorporate 600 teams and 350 universities today. Given the popularity of legal studies, it is clear why so many institutions would begin sponsoring academic teams.

According to the AMTA website, “Through engaging in trial simulations in competition with teams from other institutions, students develop critical thinking and public speaking skills, as well as a knowledge of legal practices and procedures.”

Team vice president Andrea Carlson is thankful for this experience, saying, “Mock Trial has been an amazing opportunity to gain experience in trial advocacy and what it means to prepare for a trial. It’s allowed me to explore my new interest in law and public speaking. Being involved on the team has also meant making a lot of new friends.”

Team president Vanessa Pratt said, “Mock trial means the world to me. It’s the program that I started on campus. I feel it allows students an opportunity to practice their oral argument skills and courtroom etiquette before even going to law school or practicing law for the first time.”

In the 2015 regional tournament, which was held in February, UIS finished 2-6 and failed to advance to the next round of tournaments. The tournament faced very high quality competition, however, including teams from Northwestern University, Cornell University, and the University of Iowa, among others.

While the team did not advance, student Breanna Hunt won two awards for “best witness,” which honors students who do an excellent job portraying witnesses.

On facing such challenging competition, Pratt stated, “It can be intimidating at times, but I always look at it as a learning experience. I believe competing against those teams can only make us better and help improve our program.”

The competitions are based around a set of fictitious case files created by AMTA, which are specifically designed to be nuanced and challenging for students. Teams then present one side of the case, with the winner being determined by a panel of attorneys.

The 2014 national championship winner was UCLA. The University of Iowa, who UIS competed against in the regional round this year, won the national championship in both 2002 and 2003, one of only six programs to have multiple championship wins in the competition’s history.

The presence of a team on campus is largely due to the work of Suzanne Borland, an assistant professor of legal studies at UIS.

According to Borland, “I have worked tirelessly to secure funding so that students could compete in as many competitions as possible. I networked in the Springfield legal community to find attorney coaches and volunteers to help students learn about the trial process and the rules of evidence and maximize their extemporaneous speaking, critical analysis and acting skills.”

Borland has also constructed a class for this passion being offered in the fall 2016 semester. Legal Studies and Political Science 376, Trial Advocacy, is “built around a simulated trial in which students play the roles of attorneys and witnesses. Students will develop trial advocacy skills, study courtroom procedures, and etiquette, and learn substantive and evidentiary law.”

Borland is also the faculty advisor for the Pre-Law Society, as well as the director of the Pre-Law Center.

Students interested in joining the club are encouraged to speak with Borland at [email protected] about the class next semester as well as about joining the team. Students can also contact team president Vanessa Pratt at [email protected]