Mock Trial team has successful year

by Erin Lee | 3/2/15 7:38pm

The Dartmouth College Mock Trial Society came away with a seventh place finish at the Buffalo, New York, regional tournament last weekend and received a bid to attend this weekend’s opening round championships at Pennsylvania State University — the first round of the American Mock Trial Association’s national competition — marking the first time in recent years the team has automatically qualified from competition.

TThe team will not attend, however, due to scheduling conflicts with final exams, Mock Trial president Courtney Kelly ’15 said. Twenty-six teams competed for eight slots at the opening round championships.

Kelly said the team did not rank last year and thus did not automatically qualify for a bid. The team did, however, end up advancing to the opening round championships through the open bid system, which allocates slots based on availability for teams who come close to qualifying.

Kelly said that this was the best competition the team has had during her four years on the team. Brendan Krimsky ’17 and Kelly each earned an “outstanding attorney award,” and Rachel Shatanof ’18 earned an “outstanding witness award,” she said.

Mock trial coach and writing professor Jennifer Sargent said that she usually expects at least one of the two teams to advance to the opening round championships each year, though this year’s team is stronger than usual.

On both days of the tournament, teams compete in two rounds lasting about three hours each, portraying either the plantiff or the defense, Krimsky said. Every team is presented with the same case at the beginning of the fall, and team members must decide which theories to pursue and how to allocate roles. This year’s case revolved on an 11-year-old child shooting his or her best friend, raising questions of intentional shooting or negligent parental supervision, Krimsky said.

Kelly said that on the first day of the tournament, the team did not perform as well as they expected, tying the first round and losing the second. On the second day, however, the team won every ballot, something Krimsky said is very rare. During each round of competition, two judges — positions held by lawyers or volunteers — fill out a ballot scoring Mock Trial witnesses and attorneys. These ballots determine who wins each round, she said.

Kelly said that she is proud of the team for “turning it around” after a difficult first day of trial against top teams.

“Our team has a lot of high morale and stays positive, which is important when things don’t go your way,” she said.

Krimsky, who was on the team last year, said that the team was “significantly more successful” this year, partly because of the new freshmen team members.

Sargent echoed that the team this year is stronger because of the talent of the entering class, adding that the team had better instruction earlier in the preparation period from herself and other lawyers. Sargent, who is a former practicing attorney and law school professor, said that the team’s ability is comparable to that of law students she has coached.

“I have never seen undergrads perform in Mock Trial at the level I see our students perform at,” she said. “The students on the Mock Trial team are incredibly smart, learn extremely fast and work extremely hard.”

Kelly said that the team practiced multiple times a week in preparation for the tournament and has been working on the same case since the fall. They attended an invitational tournament at the University of New Hampshire in the fall and hosted them for a scrimmage, Krimsky said.

Shatanof said she had never participated in mock trial before, though she had done debate in high school and was exposed to mock trial through her two siblings. She said that she finds the theatrical aspect of being a witness rewarding and added that she enjoyed traveling and bonding with the team during the nine-hour car ride to the tournament.

Kelly said that it was difficult to make the decision to drop out of the opening round championships, happening March 6 through 8. She noted that the term schedule put their team at a disadvantage and that not enough members were able to attend the competition.