A Mock Trial is designed to reenact much of what might take place in a trial court. Students take on the roles of attorneys and witnesses and compete against each other in real courtrooms in front of real judges and lawyers. But while the students take on roles, there is no set script (with the exception of some elementary grade trials). As in a debate, participants must adjust to the strategies employed by the opposing side. In general, mock trials draw upon historical events, trials of contemporary interest, school or classroom situations, or hypothetical and entertaining fact patterns.
In 2006, John T. Berry, Executive Director of the State Bar of Michigan, described the MCCE mock trial program as:
"[A] unique opportunity for young people to learn about the legal system, while at the same time practicing cooperative learning, critical thinking, and having positive interactions with adults. Participating in Mock Trial will certainly give a young person interested in a future legal career the chance to experience the challenges of the courtroom firsthand. However, for those following other paths, it is still a valuable and challenging exercise in reasoning, public speaking, and intellectual performance under pressure."
How does Mock Trial Help a Student Grow?
Mock Trial is a proven instructional strategy for elementary and secondary students. It helps students develop important knowledge about the law and legal system and and it develops critical-thinking and speaking skills.
Good mock trials leave student participants with an appreciation of the difficulties that judges, lawyers, and juries face in attempting to present all relevant facts and legal arguments and how these pieces fit together to insure the just resolution of the issues involved.
Margaret J. Krasnoff's May, 2005 article in the Michigan Bar Journal provides some additional insight:
"Mock trial teams study the materials, learn relevant legal principals, develop the case, practice witness examinations, and prepare opening statements and closing arguments. Just like real lawyers? Yes, indeed. The results are inspiring and sometimes, humbling. These high school students arrive in court as articulate and prepared advocates for their clients, knowledgeable concerning the law of their case, and practiced in courtroom etiquette. Each team is prepared to try both sides of the case, and each team argues both sides during the competition. Even a casual observer of the mock trial can't miss the fact that these students are engaged in and enjoying this experiential, educational endeavor. They are poised, confident, attentive, and able to think on their feet as they respond to objections or unanticipated twists in the testimony. It is equally educational for the legal professionals who volunteer to sit as presiding judges and scoring judges during the competition."
To read the entire article, click here (PDF).
What Should I Do To Get My Students Involved?
There are several ways to get involved in Mock Trial. First, you can use Mock Trial as a learning tool in your classroom. And when your students are ready, you can field at team at the MCCE Michigan High School Mock Trial Tournament.
If you just want to run a mock trial in your classroom, there are some great resources online. The American Bar Association's Division for Public Education published a booklet with a lot of information and some sample trials for all grade levels, including Big Bad Wolf v. Curly Pig: A Civil Trial (Grades K–6);Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Grades 5–9); and a historical mock trial Case of Galileo Galilei (Secondary). Putting on Mock Trials (PDF). There are also some additional sample cases available here.
If you want to join us at the MCCE MHSMTT, you can find more information on the current competition here.
And if you want to volunteer to help us at this year's competition to see what it's all about, you can register online.