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A High School Student’s Guide to Mock Trial

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For students passionate about the law, public speaking, or problem solving, Mock Trial can be an extremely fulfilling extracurricular activity to pursue. Each year, thousands of students prepare legal cases that they then present, as a team, in front of a judge. This process lends itself to the development of many crucial skills, from teamwork, to critical analysis, to writing, and beyond.


As such, joining your high school Mock Trial team can be a worthwhile pursuit. Is Mock Trial a good fit for you? In this blog post, we’ll give you a comprehensive overview of what being part of a high school Mock Trial team entails to help you decide whether Mock Trial is the right activity for you.


What is Mock Trial?

Essentially, Mock Trial is more or less what it sounds like: High school students act out a civil or criminal trial by arguing for either the prosecution or defense side against another team, which acts as the opposing side. Mock Trial is available for different age groups and education levels, including at the high school, undergraduate, and law school levels. However, in this blog post, we will be addressing Mock Trial specifically as a high school extracurricular activity.


What does Mock Trial entail?

The process begins with the distribution of case booklet, which is provided by a given state’s Mock Trial Association. This case booklet contains all pertinent details about the fictional case students will be arguing for or against, including witness statements, pre-trial stipulations, exhibits, and more.


The case booklet also contains strict guidelines that teams must abide by. Every Mock Trial team in that specific state will be arguing this same case, using only the case booklet; any outside sources are not allowed, in order to ensure each team is competing on equal footing.


Students then work with their team to develop cases for both the prosecution and defense sides; come competition time, they will have to be prepared to present both arguments. Each side will appoint students who will take on the roles of trial attorneys, witnesses, and pre-trial attorneys, in addition to one bailiff and one timekeeper. They will work together as a team to craft a strong, comprehensive, well-developed case that they will later present in competition.


Mock trial is a highly structured activity. There are certain parts of the trial that all teams must go through, such as opening statements, direct examinations, cross examinations, closing arguments, and more


All the components of the trial are strictly timed, and as such, students must be able to think quickly on their feet and communicate their points in a succinct yet effective manner. The exact time limits imposed on each aspect of the trial vary from state to state, so it is a good idea to check what regulations your specific state follows.


Some aspects of your case will likely be prepared in advance. For example, opening statements, which begin the trial, are usually scripted and rehearsed well before the actual competition. Additionally, attorneys will generally thoroughly review their direct examinations on witnesses from their own side.


However, other parts of your case must be developed on the fly, and change based on what the other team does throughout the course of the trial. Cross examinations on witnesses from the other side must respond to material brought up during the course of the opposing side’s direct examination, as do re-direct examinations.


Furthermore, closing arguments, which conclude the trial, must respond to the trial in its totality in order to pull together your side’s case and refute any material that may threaten the strength of your overall argument. As such, a strong Mock Trial participant must be able to think quickly on their feet.


Teams will generally thoroughly practice and build their case for several weeks or even months before competing. This includes team practices, scrimmages, and independent work on the case. Then, the actual competition begins with teams going up against other local schools. Usually, these competitions are organized according to county; however, this tends to vary depending on your specific location.


Successful teams may then advance to state-level or even national-level tournaments. However, it is important to note that not every state currently participates in the national tournament. Additionally, one should note that the national Mock Trial competition follows a completely different case booklet, meaning that successful teams will have to build a new case from scratch.

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What are the benefits of participating in Mock Trial?

As you’ve probably guessed, Mock Trial is a fantastic fit for students interested in pursuing the legal field. It gives students early experience in legal procedures, and a comprehensive, first hand look at what law looks like in practice. Even if you’re not interested in law specifically, these kinds of skills and experiences can also be important for history, sociology, anthropology,  political science, or other subjects that intersect with the law.


Additionally, high school Mock Trial can help prepare you to compete in collegiate or law school level Mock Trial. These higher levels of Mock Trial are generally more competitive and as such have higher stakes and prestige; having early exposure to and experience with Mock Trial can be invaluable if you’re seeking to get involved at a higher level in the future.


On a more general note, Mock Trial also teaches students invaluable skills that are directly applicable to both academic and personal pursuits. Students who participate in Mock Trial gain analytical skills from analyzing cases and facts, and learn how to compose effective arguments and respond to questions or disputes; these kinds of abilities are extremely useful in college-level writing and discussion in general.


Mock Trial also provides students with the opportunity to develop their professionalism, confidence, and public speaking abilities, all of which are  extremely important for both future academic and occupational endeavors. Having these kinds of abilities is useful for  college interviews, job interviews, class participation in the university setting, and other scenarios students are sure to encounter.


To Sum Up

Obviously, Mock Trial a great extracurricular activity for students who want to study or go into law, or who want to test out the field before committing to a pre-law major. It can also help complement activities such as Speech and Debate, Junior State, student government, Model United Nations, and other similar extracurricular groups to help create a cohesive extracurricular profile that shows specialization in law and government.


However, it can also be an extremely worthwhile pursuit for any future college student, as it allows participant to develop invaluable skills that are directly applicable to many different endeavors. If you’re interested in pursuing Mock Trial, we encourage you to check it out and see if it is a good fit for you. We hoped that armed with this guide, you have a better idea of what, exactly, Mock Trial entails.


Are you interested in learning more about extracurricular activities in high school? CollegeVine has put together guides to lots of different extracurriculars to give you a better idea of what activities may be good fits for you. Check out the links below for more information on a variety of extracurricular pursuits.



Looking for help navigating the road to college as a high school student? Download our free guide for 9th graders, and our free guide for 10th graders. Our guides go in-depth about subjects ranging from academicschoosing coursesstandardized testsextracurricular activitiesand much more!


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Lydia Tahraoui
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Lydia is a Social Studies concentrator at Harvard University who is deeply committed to helping guide students through the college admissions process. In addition to writing for the CollegeVine blog, Lydia enjoys analyzing Middle Eastern and North African politics and keeping up with all things pop culture.