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>>While other students are holed up in the library, Mock Trial competitors scrimmage their nights away.

There is no evidence that the undergraduates gathered outside classrooms at the Law School on February 13 will someday be lawyers. One student chews his roast-beef sandwich beside other students in jeans and T-shirts talking about their Soc papers. But as the clock strikes six, a young woman begins to rub her temples while glancing over a legal pad littered with notes, and another woman arrives with a huge briefcase of evidence files and demands answers: "Are we the defense tonight? Where is Chris? He's supposed to be the forensic psychologist tonight!"

IMAGE:  Mock Trial's "Team Ringo" competes at nationals this month.

While these members of the Chicago Mock Trial team are not all pre-law, something about mock trial compels them to scrimmage two to three times a week, each practice trial lasting up to two and a half hours. "It satisfies my interests in both law and acting," says Nicky Neulist, '04, a political-science concentrator.

Mock Trial, a nationwide college competition organized by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA), attracts over 300 teams, all preparing one case issued by AMTA. Since it was founded in 1997, the Chicago Mock Trial team has competed annually in the Great Lakes Regional Tournament-going head to head with teams from Notre Dame, Northwestern, and the University of Illinois-and has competed at the national level since 1999.

The Chicago team is divided into four teams, each with six to eight people and named after one of the Beatle band members. Having placed first in regional competition February 22-24, team Ringo goes to the national championship tournament, April 4-7, in Des Moines, Iowa. Team Paul placed fourth in regionals.

What's behind the Chicago Mock Trial team's success? According to team president Ashley Miller, '02, Chicago takes a "less cutesy" approach than the rest. "Some other schools have witnesses playing janitors come in wearing a janitor's outfit," Miller says. "We figure real janitors wouldn't do that for a court appearance."

There are no janitors in this year's case, but many witnesses, ranging from security guards to psychologists, must testify. The case, The State of the Midlands v. Ashley Thornhill, charges an ad executive who was passed over for a partnership with the murder of his boss.

Teams John, Paul, George, and Ringo also get by with a little help from their coaches, Greg Weintraub, JD'00, Tracy Katz, JD'00, and Kevin Kimmerling, AB'01, who competed as an undergraduate. A litigation associate at a Chicago law firm, Katz, a coach since 1998, notes that coaches can put in up to three evenings a week. What sets the Chicago team apart, Katz says, is that mock trial veterans act as mentors to the team's rookies. "This core of talented upperclassmen and women will ensure the team's success," Katz beams, "and is the aspect of the team I am most proud of."

Team members share Katz's pride. "My favorite part," Miller confesses, "is watching students who've never done mock trial before learn to work as a team. Putting together a case in mock trial means constantly relying on the skills and insights of the other members of your team and listening to each other in every round."

Whether or not team members go on to law school, mock trial offers more widely applicable skills, says Katz: "The students learn teamwork, critical analysis, public speaking, and grace under the pressure of competition."
- A.W.




 


  APRIL 2002

  > > Volume 94, Number 4


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