Some law students watch afternoon television court shows imagining themselves in the courtroom. Others grab pages worth of legal notes and create their own courtrooms through Auburn University’s Mock Trial Team.
A student organization in the College of Liberal Arts, Auburn’s mock trial team was founded in 2008 and received a bid to nationals in 2014. The team gives students hands-on experience working with legal research, evidential reasoning and courtroom procedure. (Photo obtained from the organization's Facebook)
“Mock trial is great for pre-law students and anyone interested in working on public speaking
and critical thinking skills,” Kristen Vigilant, 2014 - 2015 president, said.
Each August collegiate mock trial teams receive a 100+ page case, either civil or criminal, from the American Mock Trial Association. Students have access to witness affidavits, exhibits, case law and any other materials attorneys would have access to.
Mock trial participants prepare materials for opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations and closing arguments. Competitions typically last four rounds and teams compete twice as plaintiff/prosecution and twice as defense. Teams consist from as small as six participants to up to 10 members.
Competing against other teams, Auburn students not only act as attorneys, but also as witnesses.
“Witnesses are also incredibly important--they memorize their script and must be prepared for any question that the opposing team's attorney might ask,” Vigilant said. “Witnesses are actors, and they must play their parts well.”
Upon completion of trial, the team with the best argument is determined the winner. Judges are local attorneys who evaluate teams based on the AMTA’s scoring guidelines.
Auburn’s mock trial competed against teams across the country and traveled to Washington, D.C., Orlando, Greenville, Jackson, Pensacola, Atlanta, and Birmingham, during its past two years of competitions. (Photo obtained from Kristen Vigilant).
“The amount of success we experience really owed to people buying in,” Jeff Liu, a senior member, said. “Mock trial is a huge time commitment so it’s just having people who are interested and consistently try to improve.”
Depending how close the team is to competition, mock trial practices 6-10 hours per week.
Vigilant cites a high school teacher as inspiring her to join mock trial in high school, which led to her college participation.
“For most people, however, an interest in law sparks an interest in joining mock trial.” Vigilant said. “For now, it's the only way that pre-law students at Auburn can actively learn proper courtroom procedure and decorum.”
The organization, however, is not just for pre-law students, and has team members in engineering, science and business majors.
“In my opinion, mock trial is one of the very best ways to hone public speaking and critical thinking skills at Auburn,” Vigilant said. (Photo obtained from Kristen Vigilant).
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