This past week I stumbled upon some dozen, old half-drafted posts, as one does. Most of them are book reviews, but there was also some musings over Dickens, rants about old classics, thoughts on common writing advice, and a few scattered art dumps. And then there was the one about “mock trial.”
I know this blog is 90% about writing, and that writing is what draws many of my readers and I together, but! I do, in fact, have life outside of writing. Shocking, but yes. I am, in fact, not entirely just a bookworm and writer, or even artist. Including the other hobbies I have and activities I do, Mock Trial is a very big one, that takes a lot of time and mental energy.
This past weekend was my team’s first tournament this season, so in honor of having my hands full of that, I decided to dust off this never-published post. I wrote it a few nights before our regional competition last year but did not have time to finish it before the week was out. Instead I ended up posting a poem which likened a judge to a hawk. (if you missed it you can read it here.)
First, a quick(ish) definition of what mock trial is!
Mock trial is a program or activity based around students learning about the law and legal processes through participating in simulated trials that are usually based on real cases. Each team is given the same case set at the start of the season, which includes a stack of exhibits, a collection of witness affidavits, stipulations, laws, etc. The team then for approximately four or five months sorts through all the material to build up theories about what happened and then to craft speeches, directs, crosses, and legal arguments to present their case to a jury, as well as building up characters for the witnesses to play in court.
Out of many elements that play into the sport, there’s acting, storytelling skills, debate, knowledge and understanding of the legal system, lots of teamwork, and just general communication skills.
Students can take on the role of the attorney or a witness. Mock trial tournaments themselves are typically a full weekend event and often in real courtrooms where we compete in front of real judges, attorneys, and lawyers with a case from start to finish. (though of course events this past year has been entirely virtual because of you-know-what.)
I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse into something strange I’m passionate about!
Even if you think this blog is mostly about writing, it shouldn’t be huge news that I do more than craft the demise of beloved characters all day long. I sometimes write about books (mine or otherwise) but sometimes I also talk about my family or school. And sometimes I talk about this mysterious monstrous “mock trial.”
Yes, mock trial. That strange, kinda impressive, academic sport I participate in. I refer to it here and there, but it’s probably a foreign fish to the lot of you.
(foreign fish? don’t ask. it sounded like a good saying)
Either way, boring you say.
Well I’m afraid this is what you are stuck with, because right now Mock Trial is the only thing I’ve been working on this week, as I cram in nine days of almost solid competition preparation. In fact in less than 24 hours I will be sitting at the computer in my basement, full suit, and debating in front of some real life lawyers and judges.
To be exact: Tomorrow I will be sued for a couple million if not billion dollars over the death of roughly two hundred people.*
So no stress there at all.
The fact is, Mock Trial can be extremely stressful.
But even with that side of Mock Trial, this academic sport has a lot of ups to it, and like all things in life, the skills and lessons learned can be valuable to all areas. And my years of participating in competitive Mock Trial has taught me a lot.
#1. Confidence is key
As I grew up hearing non stop from my first coach: Fake it till you make it.
In Mock Trial we have a lot of things we do to look confident. We have the power walk where the entire team walks out of the room (where we have a team huddle and pray in the hall) and then walk back in right before the trial starts in single file, heads high, high heels clicking, suits swishing as the whole room, the other team, and the spectators watch in silence.
It is crazy what dressing up and pretending to be smart and pretending to know what you’re doing even when you don’t, can do.
There have been multiple occasions where I have completely had absolutely no utter idea how in the world to respond to the opposing counsel (team’s) argument.
But in the end I won it.
Because I pretended I was a smart lawyer who knew everything I was saying, even while the opposing lawyer was entirely right.
So don your sunglasses and tell them.
Because it does wonders.
#2. Legal pads are the best thing since sliced bread
(beyond, of course, the invention of mock trial itself)
Seriously my friends. Legal pads are brilliant. They lay flat, have crisp and professional pages, and there is no annoying metal spiraling that clicks against the table, gets screwed up wrong, or gets in the way of your wrist while you’re trying to write. Plus, you don’t have to get distracted with picking out the color of the front of your notebook. It’s just paper. Plain and simple. And as you fill it up, it’s much more intimidating, because it’s more obvious. Everyone can see that you’ve used the legal pad, but with notebook, you merely flip the page over and then who knows how long it will take you to find the front again.
Just mmm. Perfect.
And they add so much to those dramatic moments.
Also pro: when sitting at a tight range, with not much elbow room, or table room, flipping the pages as you use them, takes up less room and doesn’t disturb your co-consul besides you.
Legal pad guys. Seriously.
(Didn’t think I could make a full rant out of that point? You underestimate the obsessive relationship between debaters and legal pads. Don’t. Just don’t. Touch their legal pad.)
#3. Feedback is your friend
I know I know. We all hear this one from just about everywhere.
Well it’s true.
Either you listen to feedback from your coaches and get better, or you don’t, and then you don’t.
And we all want to
win get better, right?
Repeat after me:
#4. Always pack tennis shoes in your purse
(and a toothbrush, a pound of bobbypins, and a couple hundred mints while we’re at it)
Mock Trial competitions are an all day thing, if not a weekend commitment. The last one I competed at alone was eighteen hours. Eighteen hours in a full suit and high heels, running down halls and through parking lots. One of the most practical things to do for yourself is bring tennis shoes for wearing between rounds, toothbrush for after inhaling a sandwich during your lunch break, and mints so you don’t have to feel bad breathing on your co-consul, when you’re cramped around a desk.
Of course when it’s a virtual competition and you are by yourself staring at Zoom, it’s a bit different.
Actually it’s a lot different but don’t get me started.
#5. The skill of conversing with anyone
(and still not break out into a fist fight)
In mock trial, we talk to strangers a lot. We talk to bored strangers in the jury box who would rather have their Saturday free so they could watch TV or basically anything other than sitting on a uncomfortable wooden bench for a couple hours in a stuffy room. And we talk to excited strangers who are eager to help encourage the rising generation to learn about civic duty and justice. We even talk to seemly angry or sad strangers, who are yelling or crying over the death of a fake person in a fake case.
We converse with real life lawyers and judges, and we talk to administrators. And we learn how to look people in the eyes, talk at the right speed, handle disagreements honorably, and how to listen to what others are saying and respond. These are the fundamental, subtle, things that make all the difference.
And we never end up in a fist fight.
And most mock trial alumni say that their skills in mock trial directly aided them in job interviews. So that’s a plus.
#6. Calculating sums with different base numbers
Ever tried adding time in large quantities and carrying over numbers in subtraction but then realizing there’s only 60 seconds in a minutes unlike 100 pennies in a dollar?
Sufficient to say, it’s thoroughly confusing.
In mock trial we even practice even that skill.
#7. The ins and outs of law
Let’s just say, as long as I don’t ever end up as a defendant in a case, I know what I can say and still get away with.
For the record though
#8. The art of printing things
So you’ve written something, and need to print it out. And you’re going to edit it the next day and print it again. There is a right way to do this folks.
- number your pages, clearly, including a summary of what document it is (i.e. “Ertle Cross, pg. 1)
- scan the document to make sure you know the right page range of material you need to print. If you have unnecessary notes at the end, title page, etc. exclude those.
- print, and then handwrite in the top corner the date that you printed it. that way if you ever find a random copy in the back of your notebook you immediately know which version it is, and how updated it is.
Those three steps are life-savers.
As my brother once remarked “I wonder how many trees we’ve killed through Mock Trial?”
It’s a good question.
#9. How to think on the fly (whatever that expression means…)
We practice a lot in Mock Trial. Usually couple hours a week as a team, but no matter how much we practice running through things, there will always be something that happens in trial that no one was expecting. A witness from the other team says something bizarre you’ve never considered a possibility. The judge makes a very questionable ruling on some evidence. The opposing counsel objects under some rule you’ve never heard of.
This is why when we practice, we practice throwing strange and unheard of situations at each other as we go through witness directs and crosses and objection battles. And while it won’t prepare us for everything in tournament, it helps a lot to form a habit of thinking on one’s feet.
#10. How to get people to answer your questions
This is another art that Mock Trial hones.
We spend hours running through annoying questions with people who don’t want to answer them from things like “did you kill him” or “is this your gun” or “it’s your fault that two hundred people died, right?”
It’s entirely evil and epic and gloriously fun all at the same time.
Who needs to grow up with evasive siblings, when you have Mock Trial, right?
#11. How to sound smart
A lot of the work for Mock Trial is memorizing law, studying a case, drilling on the details, learning legal terms and how to use then, and then combining them all to make compelling and knowledgeable arguments.
“Yes your Honor, if I may proffer the testimony from this witness will lay foundation that this statement was made under extreme stress during the act in question to day which falls under Hearsay exception 803(2), Excited Utterance. As to opposing counsel’s objection to relevance, I would point out that the bar for relevant evidence is a low standard that allows any piece of evidence that has a tendency to make the fact of consequence more or less probable. The relationship between the defendant and the deceased in the days leading up to the deceased’s death in extremely relevant.”
See we’re just practicing how to be smart. How to look smart. How to act smart.
#12. How to stand (in an epic manner and sometimes in one place)
One major aspect of mock trial is public speaking skills and working on presentation. Mock trial has taught me habits to integrate as I move about the well (aka the fancy part of courtroom) including natural, non-distracting hand motions. How to be expressive. How and when to pace during a speech. What movement looks excessive (taking too many steps) or timid (stepping backwards).
Strong court room presence – that is how to move, project your voice, and stand in a professional, engaging, and confident manner – is a skill of mock trial.
#13. How to object
Need I say more?
#14. How to work with people
Teamwork is the backbone of mock trial. Every role must work together to present a complete and strong case, from the smallest technicalities, to big ideas and brainstorming, to taking notes or being ready to find the exhibit your co-attorney needs.
A good mock trial team is filled with people that invested together and know how to watch each others backs to the point you all are on the same exact brainwave and all react the same way like a row of clones in suits.
Or something like that.
#15. Every sport is alike in at least one aspect: they all have their lingo
Endings. Penalties. Points. Rules. Labels for court positions.
Recently, some friends were discussing their experience at a basketball tournament and I didn’t understand any of it (a sentiment you yourself are probably experiencing in this post). In the end, all I could do was sincerely say something along the lines of, “I’m sorry I’m not familiar with basketball but I am happy for your win!”
But I suppose trophies are a universal language.
…wow that was actually pretty deep lol
#16. Earn a new title to impress people with
Hi my name is Bob. I am in high school, I like to do cool things, and I’m good at doing cool things. Oh and by the way
#17. Earn the rights to protest against the accuracy of any court room drama ever
After mock trial, you will never watch a court room drama** the same way. Objections, openings, closings, crossing hostile witness, it’s all your jazz now. You’ll find you understand trials more than ever, and discover that the objection light bulb your coach implanted in your head still works in full force.
There’s a point where a mock trial-er then realizes they know what they are doing and they get a special pass here.
And there you go!
17 things I’ve learned and earned from mock trial, and a glimpse into a pretty large but niche sport you probably did not even know existed.
It’s a very interesting part of my life and has led to a lot of very unique experiences across the country and maybe some day I’ll write a more essay-style take on all the life skills I’ve learned through it… the kind of essay that convinces parents to sign their kids up for a team and makes all the mock trial coaches happy. The kind of essay that puts to use all those logic and argument skills learned by mock trial to advertise mock trial, and “lawyer” you into wanting to be a pretend lawyer too.
I could talk about how neat it is to talk to judges and attorneys who have dedicated their careers to protecting people and upholding justice, and how some of them have said they are encouraged to see such young people with an interest in the legal system, how it works and how it could be improved.
I could even do a couple backflips to connect the dots between mock trial and writing novels.
But today was not that day.
So I’ll end with one final profound thought:
*for the record FICTIONAL people. two hundred fictional people. in case you were wondering. last year I was the CEO of a plane company that was being sued as liable for a crash via a known, but still released faulty software. on the other side I was also an attorney, who dealt with the weeping widow. this year I am an expert, criminal justice professor who specializes her work in researching and combatting murder committed by organized crime groups. yeah mock trial handles really light topics right?
**which by the way if you’re looking for a good court room drama, Twelve Angry Men is a classic.
Note: all gifs were subpoenaed from across the internet by my personal office of clerks in order to be present today and offer their expertise. none are sequestered at any point or time. (actually from what I can remember all of them were from Giphy)