Stevenson’s competitive Mock Trial team is associated with the AMTA (American Mock Trial Association), a group that “serves as the governing body for intercollegiate Mock Trial competition,” according to the AMTA website.
Teams engage and compete in trial simulations with teams from other institutions, and participants can develop “critical thinking and public speaking skills, as well as a knowledge of legal practices and procedures” as explained on the AMTA website. The AMTA puts out a case file each year to all undergraduate teams across the nation, said Melanie Snyder, professor of law and the coach of the Mock Trial team.
The Mock Trial team consists of three attorneys and three witnesses on each side of the case (plaintiff/prosecution and defense). The attorneys are responsible for delivering an opening statement, conducting direct and cross examinations of witnesses and delivering closing arguments.
Stevenson’s team includes 10 hard-working and academically driven students, said Snyder, nine of whom are in the ABA-accredited legal studies program, and one student is a business communication major who hopes to attend law school.
While the Mock Trial team has been competing for five years, this was the first year that Snyder implemented some major changes to the team’s dynamic. Since most competitive teams begin practicing for trial in September, Snyder thought that this would be the best move for Stevenson’s team as well. The team held open tryouts within the university, and Snyder said that the tryouts were a great success.
Molly Shaffer, co-captain of the team explained, “By holding tryouts, the team has been able to start working on the case so much sooner than in previous years. Also, it made people prove that they were willing to put in the work, which overall makes the team a stronger unit.”
Although some tough decisions had to be made, Matt Buzard, Ayanna Crawley, Ruth George, Norman Greenwell, Dorothy Hinson, Natalie Hopkins, Lauren McDevitt, Molly Shaffer, Lindsay Somuah, and Nathan VanRensselaer were the elite 10 selected to compete on behalf of Stevenson University.
TEAM’S STRENGTHS INCLUDE COLLABORATION
The team worked as a unified body to prepare for their first invitational at Temple Law School Nov. 5 and 6.
“So far the team has been doing amazingly. Our first match was a great learning experience for the team. Now, we just have to take in the judges’ comments, make minor changes, and after that, I think the team will be unstoppable,” said Shaffer.
According to Snyder, the raw talent that the team possesses is unparalleled, and the team as a whole only continues to grow in its success. At the Temple Law School invitational, the team placed sixth overall out of 25 teams, the best ranking Stevenson’s team has ever received. Individually, Lauren McDevitt, Molly Shaffer and Ruth George placed in the top five.
George, a witness and attorney for the case, enjoys being a part of the team. “We go beyond being just a team. We are a family, and we continue to grow and support each other to become better, individually and as a team,” she said. She praised the leadership of Snyder, whose commitment and dedication to the team over the past five years has enabled the team to gain experience and knowledge that cannot be taught within the confines of a classroom.
PREPARATIONS FOR COMPETITION
Understanding the dynamic and work ethic of this team is imperative to understanding the content of the work they prepare in order to present for trial. The team holds practices twice a week: Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. and Sundays from 5-7 p.m. in addition to countless hours that are devoted to preparing drafts of direct and cross examinations of witnesses. In addition, each opening and closing statement can take up nine minutes when presenting.
“Composing all of the drafts, preparing yourself for objections, and studying previous case law is hard enough. However, nothing is scarier than having to memorize every single one of your roles and drafts when competing in tournaments because the use of note-cards will cost your team many points,” George explained.
Shaffer added, “[Being on the team] has made me a lot better at public speaking, and the experience I have gained has taught me what my job will entail as an attorney one day.”
The Mock Trial team believes they exemplify what happens when hard work meets dedication. Although no team is perfect, as Shaffer explained, the team’s continued effort and determination will give them an edge.
The team is approaching the highly anticipated Second Annual Charm City Classic Invitational Tournament to be held at Stevenson Jan. 28-29, 2017, which will feature 16 teams from select prestigious institutions including Princeton University, Georgetown University, American University, and Johns Hopkins University.