Published: September 11, 2015
The pre-law program is forming a mock trial team to compete with other universities at the beginning of next semester.
Matthew Meyer, The University’s pre-law tract advisor, was looking for ways to build and boost up the program when he thought of mock trial as a possibility.
“So I thought one way to grow it was to get mock trial off the ground,” Meyer said.
Meyer was an undergraduate at The University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. He remembers that the school had an excellent mock trial team, along with their pre-law program. Meyer said that the mock trial team helped to foster a robust community of pre-law students.
Along with the benefits of and interest within pre-law, Meyer saw a desire for a mock trial team in students who are thinking about coming to The University.
“When we did open houses we would have students come over and ask ‘Do you have mock trial?’. There were some that didn’t think it was that big of a deal. I would say ‘No we don’t.’” Meyer said. “Others would say ‘Oh that’s too bad but I still have a real interest in coming here’. Others would just sort of walk away. If we didn’t have it they weren’t interested in our school,”
In the end it was student interest that got the mock trial team off the ground. Meyer said that not only was the administration supportive, but the students are also interested in participating in mock trial as well.
“We had students on campus who had done it in high school, as we found out. They wanted to do it but came here anyway and were just disappointed they couldn’t do it,” Meyer said.
Meyer cites The University’s Jesuit policy of eloquentia perfecta as another factor that influenced him. According to The University’s website, eloquentia perfecta is an outstanding ability to communicate one’s ideas clearly and persuasively through both spoken and written word.
“Mock trial is something that fits perfectly within that. Plus it’s fun for students,” Meyer said.
Meyer believes that, especially for a student interested in trial law, joining the team would be a great hands-on experience. Meyer said that working hands-on with cases like the mock trial team is good experience for dealing with a real court room.
Meyer believes that there are benefits to students joining the team beyond just pre-law students.
“It’s a way of developing yourself, your ability to speak, to think, to communicate under pressure and have fun doing it,” Meyer said.
While Meyer saw the interest in and benefits to a mock trial team, time restraints and a lack of courtroom experience will prevent him from coaching the team.
“A key person who stepped up was Melissa Wright,” Meyer said.
Melissa Wright, faculty specialist in Business Law and director of the entrepreneurship program, is taking on coaching duties for the mock trial team.
Wright is part of the pre-law advisory committee, a licensed attorney who has practiced for 10 years and a professor of the business law courses in the Kania School of Management. When she learned about the student interest in the team she volunteered to work with Meyer to get the team started.
Wright did not personally take part in mock trial in her high school or college but she knew people who benefited from participating.
“Mock trial was offered at my law school and I know the students that participated really loved it and I’ve heard, mostly from the students who participated in mock trial in high school, that it was a life changing opportunity and were really excited to continue doing it at The University,” Wright said.
Like Meyer, Wright sees the benefits of joining mock trial for others besides just pre-law students.
“One of the interesting things about mock trial is that people often think it’s only for people who want to be lawyers. It’s really not,” Wright said. “Some of the most successful mock trial participants are from theater or other disciplines. One of the benefits that students get out of it is how to talk on their feet, how to research, how to deal with someone who’s questioning them,”
To help the students prepare for the cases, Wright has the help of another attorney, Sid Prejean.
Prejean practiced as a Lackawanna County public defender for five years, as well as County Chief Public Defender for two years before he retired in August. After Wright reached out to him, Prejean volunteered to help the team.
“His experience in the courtroom is amazing,” Wright said.
Wright said that Prejean’s experience with criminal cases will be of great help since the team’s competition this year will be in criminal trials.
“His criminal background is extremely helpful in helping the students understand how an actual criminal trial works,” Wright said.
There are multiple roles a student can play when they participate in mock trial, including lawyer or a witness. Each role requires a different set of skills.
“Any student that participates gets to benefit from that experience in their confidence levels and ability to field questions on their feet,” Wright said.
Natalie Rossi, sophomore, is one of the members of the mock trial team. She participated in her mock trial team in her high school in Canton, Massachusetts.
“This is my fifth year doing mock trial. I was captain my senior year as well as working closely with my coaches throughout my junior, sophomore and freshman year,” Rossi said.
Rossi said that the dynamic between teammates during a mock trial team event is important.
“You aren’t the only one up there. You have up to three attorneys and up to six witnesses so they are all working together to calm each other down and ground one another,” Rossi said.
Rossi says that all of the students in a mock trial are equally important to win.
“We don’t have a sense that anyone is more important than someone else. So someone who is doing the opening statement is just as important as a witness,” Rossi said.
Rossi is looking forward to the first event of the season.
“We have a scrimmage with another university at the end of September, but the actual competition with other universities is held in February. So it will be during the beginning of the spring semester when we actually compete. I’m excited,” Rossi said.