Movies and shows often glamorize the courtroom, but after joining Mock Trial last year senior Adam Zeitlin has learned otherwise.
WJ’s Mock Trial is divided into two teams, each with about 17 members. The teams are coached by social studies teachers Nathan Schwartz and Steve Miller. Each team is given the same case, provided by the Maryland State Bar Association. They have between two and three months to prepare both a prosecution and defense side of the case. The regular season consists of four trials against other schools, and the teams that have the best record move on to playoffs. This year both Schwartz and Miller’s teams made playoffs.
“The best thing about Mock Trial is the argumentative aspect,” said Zeitlin. “Especially on cross examination where you sometimes must make up questions on the fly, while maintaining control of the witness.”
Junior Brianna McKinney said she enjoys the trials themselves because they are always interesting. She enjoys seeing all of her team’s hard work pay off in the courtroom.
Schwartz’s team meets every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at lunch and Wednesdays after school for about an hour. For the first weeks after receiving the case, the team works on direct examinations. The designated lawyers of the team are paired with their witness and later the teams add cross examinations where the lawyers ask questions to witnesses from the other side. At the end, opening and closing statements are added.
“The biggest challenge is that you never know what the other side’s witnesses are going to say, or how their lawyers are going to object to your questions,” said Zeitlin.
McKinney agrees and adds that difference in judges’ opinions can also be difficult to deal with.
“Each [judge] expects something different in terms of court protocal and each will interpret objections differently, meaning questions and answers must sometimes be altered on the spot,” she said.
Both WJ teams meet in Rockville Court House in Rockville Town Center whenever they have a trial. The trials do not have juries, just a judge played by Maryland lawyers who volunteer.
Mock Trial is open to any interested WJ student. Tryouts are in late October but there are no cuts. According to Zeitlin, there is a lot of memorization and spontaneity involved, but the club is an overall great experience for anyone who enjoys debating and is good at public speaking.
“Being in Mock Trial teaches very good persuasive skills, in both speech and writing, and also gives you a glimpse into how trials work in real life, not just like they are on TV,” he said.