Pre-law students gear up for upcoming mock trials through weekly preparation
Liberty University’s mock trial program is eagerly preparing for upcoming competitions where it will debate cases with other schools in a simulated court environment. The program has a successful history with the mock trials A-team winning the title of regional champions before finishing 4-4 at the Open Round Championship in 2022.
In mock trials, teams debate fake cases as either attorneys or witnesses on the side of the defense or prosecution in the theoretical land of “Midlands”, which has its own laws written by professionals that resemble U.S. court law.
The trials take place in an artificial courtroom with a panel of judges who are often real attorneys or lawyers working in the field, or if the teams advance far enough, sitting U.S. judges. The panel of judges score teams based on how well their case is present
Whatever side has the higher score on each of the judge’s ballots wins the ballot, and whoever wins the most ballots, wins the round.
Competing with the mock trial team not only builds one’s communication and debate skills but also teaches members how to work together as a team to build a case. Dylan Coombs, a senior finance major on the mock trials team, explained what he learned from being involved in mock trials.
“One of the things that I’ve learned is just how far hard work and preparation can go,” Coombs said. “If your team is really committed, and you work hard and you spend time … practicing, practicing, practicing, you can get really comfortable. And that’ll be really important for when things don’t go your way, because you can kind of pivot really easily.”
While mock trials often attract people with majors in the Helms School of Government, it is open to anyone who wants to join, with an open tryout process to make it onto the team. Emma Scharstein, a senior criminal psychology major and the director of internal affairs on the mock trial advocacy board, highlights how the skills learned on the team can be helpful in any major.
“I think sometimes there’s a misconception that this is just about people who are interested in law, and it definitely helps those people … but it’s also just good for people who are looking to build some skills that you can’t really build elsewhere: some of that academic argumentation, thinking on your feet (and) speaking persuasively,” Scharstein said.
Practicing for mock trials weekly is an intense but also enjoyable time spent rehearsing questions, memorizing answers, getting to know the Midlands law and covering any possible response that could be made by opposing teams.
“If you’ve ever heard the saying that a good attorney never asks a question that he doesn’t know the answer to, that is very, very true because every single answer that you’re going to give has already been practiced hundreds of times, and the attorney knows exactly what you’re going to say before you answer the question. … We’re memorizing all this stuff and memorizing the sequence of events and we’re practicing,” Coombs said.
Through mock trials, Liberty students get to compete against rivals from Patrick Henry College to Ivy League schools and public universities. Scharstein noted how much of a blessing it is to represent both Liberty and Christ well when traveling to compete.
“As far as getting to compete against other schools, it’s awesome. Because you meet people that are interested in the same thing, but it’s also awesome because they know who we are,” Scharstein said. “They know that we’re Liberty and it’s cool to be able to represent Liberty …(and) by extension, represent Christ to these other people by the way that we interact with them at competitions.”
Freund is a feature reporter or the Liberty Champion