Mock Lawyers Win Big

The weekend before Thanksgiving break, six UB students took part in defending the wrongly accused in a high-profile murder trial. Later that day, they helped bring the accused to justice.

At a regional tournament at St. Vincent's College in Pennsylvania, UB's Mock Trial Team went undefeated and won third place by engaging in this type of role reversal, changing from prosecutors to defenders and taking on different witness personalities throughout the competition.

UB's squad competed against 14 other six-person teams, including Case Western University, University of Dayton, Michigan State and St. Vincent's own contingent. UB political science major Kristin Paulding, the team's lead litigator, captured the title of top attorney at the tournament.

The competition focused around a simulated murder trial in which a partner of a major advertising firm has been killed. Each team tried the case four times, twice as the prosecution and twice as the defense, with three members acting as legal representatives and the other three as witnesses. Part of each team's strategy was therefore creating a credible base of testimony from their "witnesses" that stands up under cross-examination from the opponents, as well as supplying their own attorneys with the evidence needed to win the case.

Teams were judged on 14 separate aspects, including opening statements, direct and cross-examination of witnesses and closing arguments.

Preparation for the trials is intense. The 11 undergraduates, not all of whom are pre-law students, meet twice a week to prepare for major tournaments such as the competition in Pennsylvania. Even with prior knowledge of the case, playing the roles of attorney and witness convincingly takes much time and practice. Almost all of the club's meetings involve practicing over each member's assigned role, whether attorney or witness, until they know it inside and out, mirroring the long hours real-world attorneys devote to preparing for litigation.

Christen Stanley, a sophomore classics major, acted as a security guard for her team's prosecution and a forensics doctor for the defense. "We're happy that we did well. We went over the stuff a lot," said Stanley.

UB's 11-person team went into the competition with a considerable disadvantage, according to club President Josh Lovejoy, a senior political science and classics major. Not only does UB have fewer members (most schools brought two six-person teams) and therefore fewer researchers, they are also without the guidance of a faculty advisor.

"We have no coach," said Lovejoy. "Almost every other team has a professional attorney coaching or guiding them in some manner. We don't." Nonetheless, with much larger regional tournaments on the horizon, Lovejoy and his team remain secure in their chances of victory.

"We're extremely confident," said Lovejoy. "With the way things are going, it seems like we're going to do very well in future tournaments."

Doug Muth, a sophomore business major, echoed his teammates' statements.

"We've been working hard," said Muth. "We've never won before and this was a big deal."