Tuesday October 4, 2016

Mock Trial Team Rules Rankings

The University of Dayton undergraduate mock trial team has soared in national rankings following its success last season. After nearly a decade of being out of the national spotlight, the team has gained a reputation for litigation skills and knowledge that has not gone unnoticed.

Under the direction of Laura Hume, associate professor of history and director of the pre-law program, the team is now ranked 129th among the more than 600 teams in the American Mock Trial Association. This is a stark contrast from previous years, when the team was unranked.

The jump is a result of the team’s performance at the association’s regional competition in Columbus, Ohio, in February, when they swept three schools, including the University of Notre Dame. These wins allowed the team to advance to the AMTA Opening Round Championship Series in March.

The University team had not achieved this level of competition in more than 10 years, yet went on to secure victories over power-ranked teams such as Gonzaga University, Bradley University and the University of Illinois-Chicago in every round, finishing with a winning record of 5-3. However by losing a tiebreaker, the team missed the opportunity to compete at the AMTA national tournament.

“This season’s team has a lot of momentum going into competition because we were so close to reaching the national tournament last year, and we don’t want that to happen again,” said Raika Casey, a University senior and veteran member of the team. “Prior to last year, we were not even ranked. But we are now and we have to prove ourselves this season. We have to show the other teams that last year wasn’t a fluke and that we deserve to be competing against the higher level teams.”

The team has secured invitations to prestigious competitions this season including the Columbia University Big Apple Invitational Tournament Oct. 22-23 in New York City. This tournament is considered one of the most elite AMTA competitions in the country.

“If this was a sport, this would be like a pro tour — it’s one of the most prestigious, elite mock trial tournaments in the country, the best of the best,” Hume said. “Columbia is obviously the host, but Yale, Harvard, Virginia, American, NYU, Cal Berkeley all bring their teams to this tournament. It’s invitation only, and we got an invitation this year due to the attention that we received from our performance at the regional tournament last year.”

Hume credits last year's success to the efforts of the attorney coaches: Jon Marshall, Montgomery County assistant prosecutor, who served as head coach; Dan Haughey, judge in Butler County Area III Court; and Jade Smarda, litigator at Faruki, Ireland, & Cox P.L.L.

Students who compete in mock trial get the chance to work on civil and criminal cases, presenting arguments in front of attorneys who act as judges. Team members play the role of either an attorney or witness. Students acting as attorneys must confidently present their argument, while witnesses are expected to be committed to their character and stick to their statements. In addition, teams must prepare to argue both sides of the given case, because they are not assigned their role as prosecution or defense until the day of competition.

“Competing with mock trial has been the best experience I have had at the University of Dayton by far,” Casey said. “It has taught me collaboration, how to think on my feet and how to form an argument. We are doing things that practicing attorneys do while being undergraduate students.”

Casey, a political science and criminal justice major from West Chester, Ohio, plans to attend law school after graduation. She feels her involvement with the mock trial team will aid in her in both applying to and attending law school.

“When a law school admissions officer sees that you have experience with litigation, speaking in front of people and that you know the rules of evidence, it definitely gives you an advantage,” she said.

Alumni of the University’s team have shown the advantage of mock trial experience for law school admissions. All six seniors who graduated from the team last spring are currently attending law school; one of them, Gurjot Kaur from Beavercreek, Ohio, is in her first year at Yale University.

“The mock trial process gives our students an opportunity to engage with legal material, courtroom procedures and rules of evidence to immerse themselves into the law and public presentation skills through active experiential learning,” Hume said. “All three of the attorney coaches our team works with deeply believe this gives the students a leg up into law school. Even if they don’t attend law school, these are transferable skills that they can take into other areas of the professional world.”

- Alex Burchfield ’16, communication assistant, College of Arts and Sciences

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