Ten Southwestern University students are studying and practicing for regional and, hopefully, championship mock trial tournaments as part of the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) season.
AMTA sponsors events across the country and provides complex case materials for academic use.
As one of approximately 600 teams from 350 universities nationwide, Southwestern attended this year’s first competition Nov 12; developing critical thinking and public speaking skills and brushing up on their knowledge of legal practices and procedures.
The majority of the students are pre-law but they also work with communications and theater students; taking all of those skills into account.
Captain Maddison Elliott, certain that her future is in the Bar, says, “For most people, the hardest part is the actual performance. We are expected to act exactly the way a lawyer would. We look the part, we use the correct language (legal terms when speaking to a judge; layman’s terms when addressing a jury), and witnesses do the same. We have to become a character—playing doctors, scientists, elders, children, and CEOs.”
The team has four coaches, which has helped the school’s ability to recruit enough members to have a full team. Coaches and mentors keep track of the process and make sure everyone is following procedure. This year the team is mentored and coached by lead Judge John McMaster (County Court at Law #1) Judge Rick Kennon (368th District Court), Tom King and local trial attorney Bill Sterling.
This year’s practice case involves age discrimination in the workplace. A fictitious non-specific employee was fired, he/she believes, due to age. The discovery and damages are provided as part of the script and team members play all of the legal roles in the courtroom and even flip-flop from plaintiff to defense throughout the trial.
At the regional competition in Waco, Emily Tesmer won a Top 5 Witness award for her turn as CEO of a Spotify-type company.
The majority of the people on the SU team have little to no experience so the team goal this year is to get the organization on track, get students experience in the court room, and work toward nationals by next spring.
Elliott continues, “If you have any intention of becoming an attorney, this is something you need to do at some point. It is a rare opportunity to practice the career you are planning to do the rest of your life, and that is exactly what we get to do when we enter the courtroom to compete.”
Students agree the experience has exceeded all expectations. “We are not just a team, we are friends. We work hard in practice and on our own time. It is a big commitment but the memories we share, the stories we tell, and the family that we have built make it all worth it.”