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Friday, October 18, 2013

More on Mock Trial Collaborations . . . .

This post is from Eric Knuppel, a San Francisco attorney who coaches mock trial teams at Golden Gate University School of Law

Friday, October 18, 2013 – San Francisco, CA

A few weekends ago, I had the privilege to be part of one of the most fantastic mock trial competition experiences I’ve had as a mock trial coach and former competitor. Why?  Because it wasn’t a mock trial “competition” - at least, not a traditional one anyway.

Instead, our law school participated in a mock trial collaboration or event created by the creative advocacy directors at three different law schools.  I didn’t ask many questions in the beginning and coached my team up in the typical way.  On a weekend day, I then witnessed a three-school, four-team, creativity-infused event that stretched far beyond the bounds of typical mock trial.  The format was a round-robin of four trials – including voir dire - before full juries followed by a dinner, reception, and awards.  Ballots from evaluators and jurors determined the winners.

The three collaborating programs were from McGeorge (the host), Golden Gate (for whom I coach), and Southern Illinois (whose coach is the editor of this blog). Each school entered one team of students from their own school.  The creativity began when SIU and GGU formed one “hybrid team” to simulate the geographic challenges that attorneys may face in practice. The directors selected a file, selected their teams, and scheduled a date that worked for all.  Professors Cary Bricker and Jay Leach of McGeorge, as the host, coordinated the first-rate judges, evaluators, and full juries – as well as the facilities and food for the reception.  Each trial started with a true voir dire – 10 minutes per student, included motions, and ended with jury deliberation and verdict.

“So what,” you might be asking. “Sounds pretty similar to me – what’s so different?”

The differences for me were four:

1.     Small scale(-ability). The small-scale, single-day format made the experience significantly easier to coordinate and more collaborative.  With the number of schools applying to limited competitions (especially in the Fall), this format is great way for programs to create a comparable, if not better, learning experience for its students.  Further, with widespread budget challenges, this format is a great way to add value to students without costs like application fees, hotels, rental cars, and other extensive travel expenses.  With SIU, we hope to establish and “home and away” arrangement to promote cost saving in future collaborations.  

2.     Short is sweet.  The preparation time leading into mock trial – typically 6-8 weeks – is positive and necessary for many students new to mock trial.  It also lends itself to more scripting, theatrics on the witness stand, and advocates parroting arguments from their coaches.  This mock trial event was less than 3 weeks from release of the file to the event.  The teams had to get up to speed quickly, make choices about theme and theory, and try their case, as opposed to put on a production about their case.  The trials I watched were more conversational and reactive than the familiar mock trial productions.   

3.     Voir dire is dear. The addition of voir dire was a great idea, not only for the students but also for the juror volunteers.  The jurors had life experiences that affected their view of the file we selected.  The importance of voir dire was underscored minutes into the exercise.  The students had to go off script and think on their feet, and the juror volunteers got to feel more invested in the students’ exercise. As a coach and competition coordinator, so often I’ve seen jury panels at these mock trial competitions leave feeling isolated, even after spending 3+ hours in a room full of students. In voir dire many of the students got into dynamic conversation with their jurors, which paid dividends in their continued attention at the end of the lengthy trials.

4.     Mix it up. The hybrid team was outstanding, and long overdue. Like Professors Behan, Bricker, and Leach, GGU Litigation Director Wes Porter (full disclosure, my boss) is a proponent of de-mystifying the mock trial experience, steering clear of the inevitable gamesmanship, and making mock trial more “real.”  Court calls, skype/video-chat conferences, pre-trial settlement conferences, witness preparation, voir dire, and now hybrid teams are hallmarks of creative ideas – we try them and they yield outstanding learning opportunities. 

As a backdrop into my positive reaction to this weekend’s experience, I work as in-house counsel for an internet company in San Francisco.  Anyone connected with the tech business is probably familiar with the oft-quoted Facebook mantra “move fast and break things” – which stands for that company’s strategy to re-iterate their product exponentially faster than traditional software firms and to not be afraid of breaking the status quo.  Almost everyone I spoke with at the reception after the competition remarked positively about the experience and how standout it was compared to “traditional” mock trial.  The three programs collaborating on this event, along with their coaches and staff, moved fast to get this creative idea off the ground, and I hope their example helps break down the staid mock trial competition format across the country.  

I assure you that the 16 students who participated in this mock trial event still projected that energy and  feeling we coaches all recognize as the “I want to do that again” expression.  I hope some of these innovations will spread in other large-format competitions around the country and I look forward to participating in more creative collaborations like this one.  With society, legal education, and the legal service market changing ever faster, we owe it to our students to try new things for their benefit, and for the benefit of advocacy and collaboration in our profession.

Erik Knuppel graduated from Golden Gate University Law in San Francisco, served as the Judge Lee Baxter Graduate Fellow in Litigation at GGU, and is now in his third year as mock trial competition coach while working full-time as an in-house counsel at Pearl.com.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing the information.

    That is really a great thing. Mock trials are performing a lot in the presentation of any case in the court. The service of mock trail is an innovative, engaging and life-changing civic education program that is combining performance based law related education.

    There are many firms that are providing the service of mock trials. You can probe into some of the best websites or any recognized legal service firm, say a one like, Magna Legal Services that is providing a great approach of presenting the case in the court with the help of mock trials, legal graphics as well as online jury research & selection in Florida.