What, why, and how of Mock Trial

by Anna Mundy, co-chair, PCBA Young Lawyers Division Mock Trial Committee

It is that time of year when Polk County Bar Association members begin to see the email requests for mock trial judges. While it is easy to dismiss those emails in light of busy law practices, other community involvement, and family demands, please remember that Iowa’s mock trial programs rely upon the continued support of the members of the Bar. Below are the details on the mock trial program and the need for PCBA members to volunteer as judges.

What: The Iowa State Bar Association Center for Law and Civic Education, with the assistance of the Iowa State Bar Association Young Lawyers Division Mock Trial Committee, sponsors Iowa’s middle school and high school mock trial competitions. Approximately 175 middle school teams and 125 high school teams participate yearly in the program. This amounts to nearly 3,000 Iowa students taking advantage of this program.

Mock trial is a trial presentation put on by two teams of students. Each team prepares opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations, and closing arguments. The students perform the lawyer and witness roles. Each team also presents both sides of the case on behalf of the plaintiff/prosecution or defendant. Civil and criminal cases are used in alternating years.

Why: Iowa’s mock trial program has obvious educational benefits for students—it provides a valuable civics lesson to students through an introduction to our justice system, and it teaches students teamwork, critical thinking, and public speaking skills. But each year, after the conclusion of the mock trial competitions, I am reminded that mock trial also gives us, as lawyers and judges, the unique opportunity to encounter hundreds of young Iowans and their families in a positive and influential manner. Both Emily Anderson and I, as co-chairs of the Mock Trial Committee, understand the impact of mock trial on students because both of us participated in mock trial programs as children. Mock trial led us to law school and eventually the practice of law. And we are not alone in that path. As Iowa celebrates 31 years of mock trial programs, you can find numerous other examples of former mock trial students who have gone on to become practicing lawyers in our state.

I am consistently impressed with the knowledge, skill, and preparation that mock trial students bring to their performance at the middle school and high school level. Their excitement and passion for mock trial is evident. Following the competition, I am repeatedly approached by lawyers and judges who convey they were glad to take the time out to volunteer as a mock trial judge because there is something refreshing and enjoyable about the judging experience. Where else can you see a 14 year-old discuss the intricacies of the hearsay rule?

There is a real need for lawyers to serve as volunteer judges on a semiannual basis. The middle school students compete in the fall; while the high school competition begins in the spring. With over 400 mock trial rounds annually that equates to at least 800 judging spots to be filled yearly! The lawyers and judges in the Polk County area are pressed into service as volunteer judges more often, on a regular basis, because Polk County hosts not only a regional competition but also the state competition for both the middle school and high school programs.

There is no requirement that volunteer judges maintain a trial practice. I understand that Evidence class in law school may have been a number of years ago for some of us, but I assure you that as members of the Bar, you are all qualified to serve as mock trial judges. If we do not have enough lawyers sign up as volunteer judges, the mock trial program may have to rely upon teacher coaches or college mock trial students who lack formal legal education. This is disappointing to students who have put countless hours of preparation into their performance.  When I tell students that I am an attorney upon the conclusion of a round, I can see and feel their admiration and awe. Let’s face it, we lawyers do not always receive a glowing reaction when we reveal our profession! Spending a few hours as a mock trial judge allows us to show the students, their parents, fans, and teachers that the legal profession includes countless talented lawyers who are also great people.

How:  Polk County will host the high school mock trial regionals at the Iowa Events Center on February 27-28, 2013. Rounds will be held at 8:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1:30 p.m. on February 27th and 4 p.m. on February 28th. In addition, Polk County will host the high school state competition on March 26-27, 2013.  Rounds will be held at 4:30 p.m. on March 26th and 9:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. on March 27, 2013.  The time commitment is approximately 2-3 hours for one round.

You may sign up to be a judge at www.iowamocktrial.com.  Feel free to contact me at mundy.anna@princpal.com or John Wheeler at jwheeler@iowabar.org with questions.