After weeks of practicing, scrimmaging, brainstorming and group study nights, the Laramie High School Mock Trial Teams are ready to hopefully win the Wyoming High School Mock Trial state competition in Cheyenne for the third year in a row this weekend.
Involving two teams arguing through what feels like a real trial, students play the roles of prosecutors, defense attorneys, witnesses and more. Arguments are timed and teams can issue objections and other motions to a real judge.
The teams won first and second place both last year and in 2017, and winners get the chance to compete against schools across the country at the national competition the following spring.
For 10 of the students, including LHS sophomore Seneca Shoales, it will be their first time competing at state; for five returning competitors, including senior Maggie Branch, it’ll be the chance to win again.
“I feel pretty confident,” Branch said of their chances to win. “We’ve been preparing for weeks now. Every time we get more criticism and we get more advice that we can add to what we already have. … I think it’s made us a lot more prepared for what’s to come.”
The teams have been practicing since October not just in the classroom four days a week but also formal scrimmages twice a week and in small study groups outside of class.
Shoales noted the class requires a large time commitment to do well.
“So far pretty much everyone who has taken the class has been able to dedicate that amount of time and are willing to dedicate that amount of time,” she said.
One advantage the LHS teams have over other teams around the state is access to the University of Wyoming Law School and its resources.
Offering advice, experience and general tips, UW professors Danielle Cover and Melissa Alexander volunteered to serve as judges for the teams’ scrimmages twice a week in the Law School’s moot courtroom, and several law students volunteered as jury members as well.
“Being this close to the university really helps,” Branch said. “Being able to use the law school for our practices, being able to talk with some of the professors and grad students and all that, it’s super helpful.”
Local attorneys with Corthell & King, P.C., Marion Marchetti and Erik Oblasser, served as coaches for the teams this year, giving additional insight into the mock trial’s case, which involves a person suing an insurance company over the loss of a prized rodeo belt buckle.
Some students have family members working in law that can give extra help as well, Shoales noted, but many students like herself went into the class without much experience in a courtroom.
“Now I know I can go to a real trial and be able to follow what everyone is trying to do, and that’s really awesome,” she said.
Not only is the class great for students who might be interested in a future career in law, the skills learned from the experience can transcend to different careers as well.
“It ended up really improving my communication skills,” Shoales said. “I don’t know if I want to go into law or not, I didn’t take this because I wanted to be a lawyer, … but I know this is definitely a good class for anyone who wants to improve their communication, wants to improve their knowledge of how the real world works and how you can really appeal to people to get your point across.”
The class wasn’t always so beneficial. When Branch first started as a sophomore, she said the class had never been to state — let alone nationals — and wasn’t nearly as competitive as it is now. As it grew, Branch said the chance to compete and possibly win was a major motivator.
“Now after three years of doing this, the program has changed completely from what it was before,” she added. “We’ve improved significantly. … It’s cool to know that I’ll be leaving a program that can influence other people to maybe want to become lawyers or do something with law. It was cool to see the program grow.”
If the teams win state for the third year, they’ll head off to nationals in the spring. The first year Branch and her team went to nationals, she admitted they weren’t nearly prepared enough for the elevated level of competition, especially compared to some of the private schools that compete each year.
“Nationals is a whole different scene,” she said. “This past year I think we improved a lot; we did miles better than we’ve ever done before.”
The 2020 national competition will be in Evansville, Indiana. Should the LHS students advance, all practicing will be done outside of school class time due to the class only being offered in the fall.