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For Educators - K-12 Promising Approaches
Grade Level: 9-12
The Maine State High School Mock Trial Competition is an academic program for schools to compete at regional, state and national levels. The trial is a simulated case, based on Maine law, in which students portray attorneys and witnesses. The trials are unscripted. A slightly modified version of the Maine Rules of Evidence is used. Competition matches are conducted before real judges in courtrooms all over the state.
Student teams study a hypothetical case comprised of witness statements and statutory and case law. They receive intensive coaching from volunteer attorneys in courtroom procedures and trial preparation. Students acquire a working knowledge of our judicial system, which helps them develop their analytical abilities, communication skills, and self-confidence.
The Maine competition has five rounds in which teams are paired for matches. Each match consists of two trials. Teams play both sides of the case in each match (i.e., teams take one side for the first trial, the other side for the second).Teams must win the match in order to proceed to the next round. Occasionally, wildcard slots are available in which teams that have lost a match can compete again. The entire competition takes six or seven weeks.
According to the CMS report, “empirical evidence indicates that simulations of … trials… in schools lead(s) to more political knowledge and interest.” In addition, the CMS Review states that “Mock trial programs are excellent for developing an understanding of the judicial branch of American democracy, which is often overlooked by other civic learning programs.”
At the school level, teams need a teacher coach to introduce material, manage practices and coordinate scrimmages. Teams need a lawyer, preferably a litigator, to coach the students on courtroom procedures and the rules of evidence.
The Maine mock trial coordinator offers training sessions for competing teams each year. In addition, videos and preparation materials are available at Maine Law & Civics Education at the University of Maine School of Law. The national organization’s website at www.nationalmocktrial.org, has helpful information in its newsletters.
The training session offered by the mock trial coordinator each year is indispensable. Teachers network at the session and have opportunities to compare management strategies and discuss implementation. All teachers involved in the Maine State High School Mock Trial Competition make themselves available for questions and help for new teams.
Joan Macri, Lewiston High School Mock Trial Teacher-Coach: The Mock Trial competition offers students the opportunity to experience the judicial system in an in-depth, hands-on fashion. Students are required to analyze the case materials, develop strategies, learn the Maine Rules of Evidence, and present oral examinations of witnesses in a persuasive and articulate manner. Students are evaluated on how well they know and understand the Rules of Evidence, the differing styles of cross and direct examinations and how well they portray the roles of witnesses.
Sarah W., Senior, Portland High School: In my four years on the Mock Trial team, I have learned a great deal about critical thinking, public speaking, and the law. The ability to think critically and logically helps me in my everyday life: I am capable of informing myself about both sides of political issues, and my essays for school are thought out more completely. Standing up in front of a courtroom to deliver a speech or give testimony is really stressful, but also great practice for the real world. I don’t plan to go into law as a career, but learning about law and the legal system was still an important part of the Mock Trial experience to me. As an informed citizen, I feel that it’s my duty to understand how my country’s government and laws work. Because of my involvement in Mock Trial, I can interpret legal language fairly easily. I also understand the complexities of practicing law – distinctions like “beyond a reasonable doubt” or the difference between “knowing” and “reckless” behavior are hard to make, and really more art than science in their application.
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