Mock trial master

Stevenson second-year student Marissa Chappell prepares for a career in law by leading trial team

By Amber D’Abundo
Villager Contributor

It may seem inevitable that Marissa Chappell will be an attorney. Her grandfather practices law. Her favorite high school teacher was an attorney. And one of her most-liked professors here at Stevenson is an attorney.

Further, Marissa is one of Stevenson’s top mock trial competitors.

In short, Marissa, 19, is on track to become an outstanding attorney.

As a second-year legal studies major at Stevenson, she came to the school for its mock trial program. Her dream is to practice family law and work with children. She has always had a natural love for law and a passion for mock trial. Her grandparents have always supported this dream, and her grandfather continues to be an inspiration for her, despite the devastating loss of her grandmother two years ago. Mock trial has helped build Marissa’s confidence and taught her that she wants to be a civil attorney.

“Criminal law is very emotional,” Marissa said. “You’re putting someone’s life on the line vs. someone’s livelihood.”

From an early age, Marissa has always been comfortable with making speeches and talking in front of people, she was the valedictorian of her small private school’s eighth grade graduating class. Marissa joined the drama club in high school, doing mostly musicals throughout her four years but she struggled with the switch from private to public school. The daughter of two teachers, her father teaches fifth-grade math and science while her mother teaches tenth and eleventh-grade English; her whole life has centered around teaching, school and academics.

Springbrook High School in Montgomery County offers a legal program that Marissa joined in addition to the drama club. She started mock trial in her junior year portraying a witness. From her very first competition, Marissa decided she wanted to be an attorney on the team. During her senior year, she became captain of the team and an attorney while simultaneously joining the debate team.

Both of these roles taught Marissa leadership and confidence. During her time on the mock trial team, Marissa’s coach, Jennifer Laskin, who was an attorney and teacher; encouraged her to become a lawyer. The early exposure to law, allowed Marissa to discover her love for it and that she actually had the skills to do it. Outside of mock trial, Marissa was the co-president of her high school class and the commencement speaker at graduation.

As the granddaughter of an attorney, she always felt drawn to law because of its rights and wrongs, the rules and facts, the control, and the lack of emotions. Milton Chappell works as an employment and labor attorney with the National Right to Work Foundation helping employees that have been discriminated against. Marissa’s grandfather has always inspired her to become a lawyer and she looks up to him.

Marissa’s life changed when her paternal grandmother Margot Chappell passed away unexpectedly two years ago. The two had a remarkably close relationship and like her husband, she was always incredibly supportive of Marissa’s dreams. Marissa looked up to her as a role model, both for how to do things and how not to do things. Her grandmother had a massive impact on her life and was the main person that made Marissa develop a love for people. She could talk to anyone and could find a connection with anyone right away which was always fascinating to Marissa.

“She and I were in line for a Supreme Court case my grandfather was trying, and she started talking to someone random in line. It was about the most random things like her house fire or my dad’s childhood. Anything that she could talk about to find some sort of connection with another person,” Marissa said.

Before beginning school at Stevenson, Marissa took part in the school’s camp mock program. Stevenson’s mock trial team advisor Melanie Snyder convinced Marissa to come to Stevenson where she won the Pugh Paralegal Scholarship award. After that, she began her first year of college and experienced college-level mock trial. According to Professor Snyder, Marissa was the only freshman to make the higher-level mock trial team. She was nervous and tried out for a witness role but ended up with two attorney roles.

“I remember when I met Marissa it was just like things clicked,” Professor Snyder said. “You just kind of meet somebody who you know is going to be such a wonderful addition to your program, not just mock trial but legal studies and Stevenson in general; she was just the perfect fit.”

The Covid-19 pandemic made all competitions virtual last year, but Marissa and her team competed in tournaments every weekend. Through practice and competitions, Marissa discovered she was particularly good at openings, which made sense because she described herself as a big storyteller. The team made it to regionals and received fourth place.

Just last summer, Marissa took part in camp mock for a second time to brush up and refresh her skills. She also interned as a paralegal at BGS Law, a family law office. Thanks to her high school coach, this internship showed Marissa that family law is very much what she wants to do in life. During her second round of camp mock, Marissa encountered her first civil case which allowed her to gain experience with new skills and improve on the ones she already had. This competition season, Marissa is one of four captains split between the mock trial team’s two competing teams. She has reprised her role as an opening attorney and even helped the coaches put the program’s teams together.

During their first competition at Charm City in Baltimore, Team Medusa won 3-of-8 ballots and Marissa won her first Outstanding Attorney award. She received 17-ranks from the competition judges. During their second competition, Team Medusa won 6-of-8, scoring second place at the Black Squirrel Invitational in Philadelphia. It was here Marissa won her second Outstanding Attorney award of the season, getting 19-ranks from the judges, the highest ranks out of everyone. Marissa felt inspired by her team’s growth and excitement for future competitions.

“I’m a good observer, I learn a lot of my skills by watching others perform,” she said.

Marissa’s accolades extend far beyond the world of mock trial. As vice president of Stevenson’s Legal Society and the Social and Society Events Chair for the Society of Leadership and Success, Marissa put it best, she wears a lot of hats! Although she stays busy, Marissa never lets her grades suffer. She made the Dean’s List both semesters of last year and is an honors and leaders’ scholar.

“I knew immediately she was going to be a star…and she is,” Professor Snyder said.

Does she have any advice for others about making important decisions?

“I just take it one year at a time or one summer at a time,” Marissa said.

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