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Trial runs are over for student group headed to nationals

Tyler Joswick / Asst. photo editor

Fresh off its undefeated streak at regionals and the Opening Round Championship Series, one of Ohio State’s undergraduate mock trial competition teams is moving on to the national stage for the first time in OSU’s history.

Mock trial is a student organization that pits competing schools against one another in an eight-month race to the National Championship Tournament, a feat the OSU undergraduate mock trial team has accomplished.

OSU’s team has 10 members going to the National Championship Tournament in Des Moines, Iowa, this weekend.

Out of more than 500 mock trial teams this year, the National Championship Tournament has been whittled down to the top 48 in the country, including perennial favorites Harvard, Columbia and last year’s winner, New York University.

Monica Killough, practicing attorney and the group’s volunteer adviser, has been to the national level before as an undergraduate at the University of Michigan and said it was an event unlike anything the group has ever experienced.

“It’s a different level of competition,” Killough said. “Throughout the year it progresses from the simplest, most basic performances and with each tournament the competition gets a little bit stiffer. At the National Championship level it is very difficult to distinguish these from actual practicing lawyers.”

Any competing member at OSU has to contribute at least $1,000 out of pocket to participate and cover expenses. This is something that many other schools don’t have to worry about, Killough said.

“We have a bit of university support but we don’t have the budget that a lot of schools around the country have,” Killough said. “There are other schools that have a budget of $10,000 and $30,000 a year, paid coaches and all their travel is covered. This is all the students.”

Success in mock trial requires funding, but it also requires a large time commitment, said Meagan Woodall, a third-year in Spanish and political science and the club’s president.

Woodall said during the weeks before tournaments, competing members usually prepare for 20-30 hours per week.

“It’s rough,” Powell said. “It’s hard to do mock trial and other activities too, but in my opinion, it’s totally worth it.”

The time spent preparing is used to continuously update and improve strategy for trying a case that every mock trial team in the country shares each year. Every team has to learn the plaintiff and defense sides of the cases as attorneys and witnesses and then attempt to anticipate what the other schools will use as legal arguments.

In each tournament, every squad has four rounds, two as the defense and two as the plaintiff to determine the winner, Killough said. The case also changes slightly at almost every tournament to keep the teams working to outsmart the competition.

The skills learned in mock trial are not just for soon-to-be litigators, Woodall said. They can be useful for anyone.

“The poise, the confidence, the ability to think on my feet, all of that has certainly stemmed from my experience in mock trial,” Killough said. “The critical thinking skill is useful whether you practice law, whether you go on to teach or whether you go on to do research.” 

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