The double doors of the court room open as a group of men and women enter, dressed in their Calvin Klein neck ties and form-fitting pencil skirts. No music beats syncopate the sounds of their footsteps as they make their way toward the stand. Judge Mills does not have his gavel at hand waiting to preside over the legal woes of biter exes. This isn’t an episode of “The People’s Court.” Welcome to the National Championship Tournament for the most talented mock trial teams worldwide.
In general, mock trial is a team of college students who act as attorneys and witnesses in an attempt to simulate a fake trial based on real case laws and rules of evidence. Although some participate in mock trial as a tool to enhance such skills as public speaking, a main goal of the program is to give students experience in law and a sense of whether or not their goals to become lawyers are tangible.
On the road to achieving Nationals success, the UC Irvine mock trial team makes the process seem like child’s play due to their 7-1 record. At Regionals, they faced their archrivals and the Regional winners for seven consecutive years, UCLA. Toward the end of the competition, UCI and UCLA were tied for first place. However, due to the nature of tie-breaking procedures, UCI ended up with second place and UCLA with first. Since UCI was one of the top two teams in the competition, they were automatically accepted into Nationals.
On April 4-6, 2008, UCI’s mock trial team competed at Nationals in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was their first time in Nationals since the program was officially established in 2005 through the persistent efforts of fourth-year English major, Nada Rastad. Few third-year programs ever make it as far as Nationals, but they did not let their newcomer status define the quality of their performance. Surrounded by a slew of 63 other highly talented mock trial teams, the underdogs were able to snag 12th place in the competition.
Continuing the winning streak, first-year undeclared major Brisa Simmons was given an All-American Attorney award, and third-year history major Mitchell Davis was given an All-American Witness award. Only 20 of each award are given to the best individual attorneys and witnesses in the competition. “I’m not going to lie, I cried,” Simmons chuckled about her win, “it was unreal. It’s really nice to see so much work really payoff.”
UCI Mock Trial president Marissa Oxman credited the team’s success to the level of camaraderie that the team shares, as well as the leadership of their coaches that are practicing attorneys around the area. Throughout the intense practices, the members were constantly there for each other’s beck and call.
Although they presently hold a prestigious reputation, the mock trial team has also had its share of road blocks. In addition to a fluctuation of committed members during its first two years, the club also had to face a battle with administration over the worth of the program on campus. With few outlets for prospective law students to turn to, Oxman emphasized that the team’s necessity to the university was often overlooked.
“We’re hoping that by doing well competitively and including as much of the student body as we can, that we’ll get the university to start recognizing that this is something that they should support and that they should advertise to the rest of the community,” Oxman said.
This is a battle that they have gradually won. According to Oxman, the team managed to get the university to create a course that will be available in fall 2009. The class, “The Art of Trial Law,” will be instructed by one of their team’s coaches. This class is intended to provide a noncompetitive avenue for people who either don’t have the skills needed for mock trial or aren’t ready to compete in the courtroom yet. “The Art of Trial Law” will cover the basics on mock trial and trial law.
With their first Nationals win behind them, Oxman remains optimistic about the future of UCI Mock Trial. She and other members are currently strategizing ways in which to train more efficiently since they start training at the end of September, while state colleges have the narrow advantage of starting in August. Knowing that they could now be powerhouses despite their relative newness, one of their main goals remains to be on top. “UCLA has been the top team in Southern California for a very long time and we want to take them out,” she said.
Although Oxman is evidently proud of what the team has accomplished in its past three years, she is sure to point out that the intrinsic rewards were the real sense of accomplishment. “I just absolutely had an amazing experience this year,” she said, “it’s a lot of work, but when it comes down to the end, it’s exhilarating.”