“What’s mock trial” you ask? Funny. I asked myself that very same question this time last year. After a year of teaching the class under my belt, I can now say with confidence that it just might be the very best class your student can take to learn public speaking, to debate with boldness and poise, to improvise under pressure, and to learn the fundamentals of US law.
The official website, http://lawforkids.org/mock-trial, provides a brief overview:
The Arizona High School Mock Trial program, co-sponsored by the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education and the State Bar of Arizona’s Young Lawyers Division, teaches students in grades 9-12 about the law and the legal system by participating in a simulated trial. The program is an opportunity for students to learn about the law and the legal system from practicing attorneys; for teachers to work closely with attorneys to reinforce legal concepts in the classroom; and for attorneys to share their expertise about the law and their legal skills.
How does it work? Lawforkids explains:
Students have the opportunity to learn from practicing attorneys; teachers work closely with attorneys to reinforce legal concepts in the classroom; and attorneys have an opportunity to share their expertise about the law and their legal skills. Mock Trial teams, consisting of six to eight students, a teacher/coach, and an attorney/coach, receive a fictional case in November. Each team must learn both sides of the case and students must play the roles of both attorneys and witnesses. Teams work together to learn the facts of the case and create strategies for trial.
These are the program goals:
- To give students a better understanding of the legal system – from the rules of evidence to proper court decorum.
- Increase awareness of the importance of law in a democratic society and strengthen the understanding of fundamental rights under the U.S. Constitution.
- To promote increased confidence, poise, oral skills, critical thinking skills and teamwork skills.
The end of the season is marked with a tournament in which students from their region compete against each other.
Regional tournaments are held in late February, in which teams present their cases before a real judge. The winning teams of each regional tournament, the teams with the most convincing presentations, are invited to compete in the State Tournament held in Phoenix in March. The winner of the State Tournament is eligible to compete at the National High School Mock Trial Championship held in May. Recognized as one of the top programs in the country, Arizona’s representative at the National High School Mock Trial Championship won the championship in 1997 and finished in the top ten in six of the last ten years.
Our class (team) just completed our first tournament last weekend. It was a steep learning curve for us all: a first time for not just me as their teacher, but for every student on the team, AND for our attorney coaches. We also practiced within a rather limited time frame, meeting only twice a week in comparison to other teams in Tucson who meet on a regular, block class schedule. Despite these setbacks, the students shined in every way, winning one of the tournament competitions in points and winning each of the competitions in the hearts of the judges. We were told that our “team was so impressive…. I was very impressed that a first year team was so prepared and had such a command of the process! It’s really hard to get a new program started when you haven’t seen a tournament in action. I hope your students are proud of their performance and learned from the teams they competed against!”
They are proud of their performance and some are planning on taking the class again next year. I can’t wait to get started!
Below is a slide show of photos of the team.