I Go to “Court”

Our student writer, Anna, explores one of UMBC’s intellectual sports…

Anna---I-Go-to-CourtLook at the Student Org list online and you’ll find Mock Trial listed as an “Intellectual Sport.” Believe me — there’s a reason for its inclusion in that category.

A little bit ago I was invited to sit in on a practice with the team to get a feel for what this org involves. (And I should note these guys are a bunch of friends, so I basically just hung out with a really smart friend group!.) It just happened to be a practice devoted to running through questions between attorneys and their witnesses, so I got to learn the case and how they approach it. As I saw at the practice, strategy is an integral—fundamental, really— factor in mock trial. Generally, strategy includes how a team uses the case law, objections, and handbook rules, as well as how they characterize witnesses and what (if any) additional questions or methods they incorporate into their trials. Of course, how they go about presenting the case as a believable story is at the crux of any team. This year, the team had to argue that a casino owner was–or was not–forced into committing an illegal bribe to acquire a second casino. When I interviewed Dylan and he told me that being involved is for people who want a challenge, I think he summed it up pretty well.

Admittedly, my knowledge of legalese is a bit outdated, since the last time I dealt with law was years ago in high school. I will nevertheless attempt to explain a few details about the case to give you a better feel for the sport.

The case was super interesting this year because there were two possible defendants, and so the team has to essentially prepare strategies for two cases as opposed to the typical one. This means that whichever team represents the state (it’s a criminal case, so it’s the state versus the defense) gets to decide which defendant out of the two they want to prosecute in that trial. Tricky, huh?  That means all teams have to be flexible and prepared for a lot of changes between trials. In terms of the charges, the concern here is entrapment. Basically, there’s a government official and an undercover officer who may or may not be guilty of entrapping (or ‘forcing’) the casino owner to illegally bribe someone.. Each side (prosecution and defense) has to demonstrate why their interpretation of events is correct, which thus should result in either a conviction, or a dismissal. If you’re confused, that’s fine! It took me a while to glean all of this info, and I was there in person. It’s a challenge, but don’t worry—

Beyond the rampant legalese, the concentration to detail, and the probing questions raised so as to improve, the practice was goofy. (I was informed that not every practice is as goofy as that one.) Nevertheless, just because they deal with tens of pages (maybe more?) of case law (and if you’ve never read case law, you probably never want to) doesn’t mean that the team is all about work-work-work.  At least, that’s certainly not the vibe I got. For over two hours I was sitting amidst a group of friends who were focused on enjoying themselves while simultaneously learning and practicing something they all wanted to be a part of. It was a balance of work and play, and frankly, it was enjoyable just sitting there in the commandeered classroom and absorbing the atmosphere of the practice and the dynamics of the team.

So, moral of the story? The Mock Trial team works hard, but not at the expense of fun. They’re cool people— welcoming, too. If you’re considering law as a career path, check it out—give being a lawyer a test run. If you’re just interested in law as a concept, or public speaking, or even you simply like thinking critically and strategically, then hey! Check it out. Also, shout out to them for having an awesome season! Congrats!

–Anna Crow ’16