Students at the University of Maine are combining acting, arguing and law practice all in one place and they have been doing so for 10 years.
Although the UMaine Mock Trial team is a relatively small group on campus, it tackles no small task.
The team acts out complex legal cases at two or three tournaments throughout the year. At each tournament, the team must participate in four rounds, during which two rounds are spent as as the plaintiff and two rounds as the defendant.
“You have to know the case inside and out because you have to go on both sides and you do have to memorize a lot of facts. It is a lot of work,” Daniel Norwood, a fifth-year political science student and first-year graduate student in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said. “A lot of colleges have it as a class. A lot of other schools use professors and sometimes even have lawyers to run the classes, too.”
In a mock trial, a team of at least six people is given a case, which is switched back every year from a criminal case to a civil case. Normally, the case is between 200 and 300 pages long, depending on its complexity. Within these pages are witness accounts and evidence, and the team has to get together and use what is given to come up with a defense. The Mock Trial team has to take roles as lawyers and witnesses for the case.
Invitational trials are held at universities nationwide. Students who wish to host an invitational at their institution have to apply to the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) a year in advance, and they must be sure the area surrounding the institution can accommodate traveling trial participants.
Each year, the AMTA gives mock trial teams the materials necessary for their trials. Each college is given the same trial for the year.
At UMaine, it started as a student-led group, which continues to this day. Members analyze the arguments, go through and pick which members are going to play what role and then pick what side of the particular case is stronger.
Winning is simple, or so it seems.
To win, one must stay in character and keep composure during the trial when being cross-examined and also be able to prove why the case is stable.
“It’s just a lot of fun. We get to use a lot of legal jargon, gives us a good understanding of the law and it increases your knowledge,” Norwood said.
The number of group members varies from year to year, but anyone can join.
“Obviously it is a great resume booster, great networking opportunity because you meet lawyers and state representatives and judges,” Norwood said. “Whether you like acting or law or just want to try something new it is really easy to get into if you are willing to put the work in.”
The UMaine Mock Trial team meets every Thursday at 7 p.m. in the Wade Center on the first floor of the Union.