If you heard that students were spending their Tuesday and Thursday nights contemplating the specifics of an aggravated murder, you might have cause to be concerned. But not to worry, the murder in question is part of a fictional case, and the members of UConn’s Mock Trial Society aren’t just your regular ol’ students. With hundreds of other teams across the nation, members of the club prepare a case — distributed to them by the collegiate American Mock Trial Association — as if they are real attorneys and witnesses going to trial.
“The case switches from criminal to civil every year,” Colin MacDougald, a seventh-semester political science and economics double major, said. He serves as the club’s president. “Here at UConn, we have three teams, each comprising of about eight members.”
As expected, the organization consists of many pre-law and political science students but also accepts and includes students across all majors, including finance, philosophy, human rights and accounting.
“To be a successful mock trial team, we must put compelling witnesses on the stand who appear credible and trustworthy,” MacDougald elaborated on the diverse composition of the team. “Thus, we have a strong desire to welcome acting majors to the team or anyone with theater experience.”
The three teams are balanced between upper- and lowerclassmen in order to help acclimate new members to the mechanics of mock trial and public speaking.
“Upper-classmen are encouraged to take charge at practices and teach new members the skills they need to know, such as how to play a credible witness or how to deliver a closing statement to the jury,” MacDougald said. The skills they gain from practicing and working on a case are valuable for any student, even if they are not heading to law school. “Through the practice of mock trial, one becomes familiar standing at the front of the room, giving arguments to judges and jurors and learning to speak slowly and articulately while being forced to think on your feet in response to opponent objections.”
Last season was a banner year for the team as they competed in — and won — numerous invitationals and competitions with 15-20 other schools in the northeast, including Yale University, University of Pennsylvania and Boston College.
“During the invitational season, we took first place at the Inaugural New England Classic in Hartford, Connecicut, which is the first time a UConn team has ever won a tournament,” MacDougald said. The overall season consists of scrimmage-like invitationals in the fall semester, the regional competition in February and possible advancement to the Open Round Championship Series (ORCS) and National Championships.
“Our success continued into the regular season … Both our A team and B team earned a 6-2 record [at the regional championship], securing bids for both of them to the Open Round Championship,” MacDougald said. “This was the first time UConn had qualified two teams for ORCS in school history.”
Although the two teams fell short of the seven wins needed to advance to the National Championship, the club seeks to build upon the success of the previous season.
“It is my belief that we have the desire and ability to break yet another UConn record by advancing to the National Championship this coming spring,” MacDougald said. Only three members graduated last year, with almost 20 returning and seven new ones. “We are looking to expand the number of invitational tournaments we attend so our members can experience traveling all across the country, performing at the highest level against the greatest competition we can find.”
They look forward to hosting the 14 schools attending the Second Annual New England Classic Tournament at UConn’s School of Law at the end of the month. MacDougald credits the complex planning of the student-run event to the tournament directors, fifth-semester student Annika Redgate and third-semester economics major Jack Bergantino.
“Coordinating the schedules and travel logistics for eleven different universities is no easy task,” MacDougald said. The lineup is expected to be highly competitive. MacDougald expressed the need for any more qualified volunteers — attorneys and judges — to help with the event and to contact them by email if they are available. “They have been responsible for recruiting law students, attorneys and judges to volunteer for the weekend to judge each round of competition.”
As for long-term goals, the Mock Trial Society wants to build a lasting legacy and stabilize the success that they have experienced in recent years.
“I want the University of Connecticut’s Mock Trial team to be on the map for years to come, not just for the moment,” MacDougald said.
Hollie Lao is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.