Eastern Michigan University
direct edit

Mock Trial

The Basics

American Mock Trial Association events are based on fictional cases that alternate annually between criminal and civil. Cases take place in the fictional state of Midlands. This jurisdiction comes complete with its own set of procedural rules (i.e., process and evidential), as well as substantive rules of law and court precedent.

The competition consists of two teams who play either the role of plaintiff/prosecutor or defense. Each round of the competition begins with one student from each team presenting an opening argument. The plaintiff/prosecution calls three witnesses, who are then cross-examined by the defense. Once the plaintiff rests, the defense calls its witnesses who are also subject to cross-examination. Once the defense rests, closing arguments are presented by team members who did not offer an opening statement.

Attorneys are scored on opening and closing arguments, as well as on direct and cross-examinations. Scores are based on presentation and the ability to integrate the substantive, legal, and procedural aspects of the case. Witnesses are scored on their performance under direct and cross-examination.

Mock Trial at Eastern Michigan University

Eastern Michigan has participated in AMTA competitions for almost ten years. During that time, many students have availed themselves of this unique opportunity to learn about the legal system and careers through applied exercises against students from other universities throughout the United States. Specifically, mock trial represents an interactive, extracurricular exercise that teaches and develops several critical skills: effective and confident public speaking, the art of trial advocacy, legal arguments, team work, substantive law (i.e., defining right and wrong based on statutes and previous judicial decisions), and procedural law (i.e., applying the Federal Rules of Evidence).

Students learn the mock trial game and its application to the real world under the tutelage of faculty, former mockers, and EMU graduates who have gone on to law school and successful legal careers. As a result, students are given the opportunity to meet, network, and work closely with lawyers and judges from the local community.

The mock trial season begins in mid-August with AMTA's release of that year's case. The case includes witness affidavits or statements, statutes/legal precedents, and various other sources of evidence (e.g., police reports, autopsies and business documents). Actual competitions begin in October and continue until February, when teams throughout the country compete in regional tournaments to earn slots at the opening round championships. The team devotes 7-9 weekends a year to invitational and tournaments sanctioned by the American Mock Trial Association. EMU provides funding for transportation, competition fees, and hotel accommodations as well as other related expenses.

In recent years, Eastern has enjoyed considerable success winning invitational and regional competitions and placing 4th at an opening round championship. The team also earned a bid to the National Championships in 2010.

The Students

A high percentage of members of EMU's top mock trial team have gone on to top-50 law schools, and almost all have or are attending schools in the top 100.  These schools include Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Minnesota, as well as Case Western Reserve, Indiana, DePaul, and Toledo. Students also attend Wayne State, Michigan State, and Detroit Mercy.

Most team members who chose to go to law school have been able to achieve that goal. In recent years, former mockers have found summer associateships with large and small law firms and clerked for trial judges, prosecutors, and public defenders, as well as U.S. Attorneys, Federal District Court judges, and State Supreme Court justices. After law school, recent graduates have found positions at some of the largest firms in Michigan and the Midwest. Others work as prosecutors, defense attorneys, and independent practitioners in the areas of immigration law, general business, and criminal law.

The Commitment

Joining mock trial requires a commitment to learn and compete as a member of team recognized and funded by Eastern Michigan University. While it can be a significant commitment, its rewards are considerable. Many students claim that it is the most meaningful and important activity they did while at Eastern. Come see for yourselves by contacting the Department of Political Science or Professor Barry Pyle.