Franklin & Marshall’s mock trial team has landed among the top 25% in the nation this year. For the first time in campus history, the team advanced to the American Mock Trial Association's Opening Round Championship Series (national semifinal tournament) held March 19-21.
The shift to virtual competition this year meant that competition was not limited by geography or school size – an added challenge.
“There are about 700 teams across the country and you could be competing against any of them,” said Mike Vitlip, director of legal and STEM professions advising, and mock trial team advisor.
F&M faced Ohio State University, the University of Georgia, Purdue University, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Though they secured three ballot votes from semifinal judges, it wasn’t enough to advance to the final series.
“Actually advancing past regionals was a very proud moment for me because I got to witness the hard work that this team has put in over the years finally pay off,” said senior Vanessa Woods, team co-captain.
Each August, the American Mock Trial Association produces a case ranging from 160 to 180 pages.
During a trial, students act as attorneys and witnesses for a team. The attorneys must conduct a direct examination and a cross-examination. Each witness is questioned by an attorney from their team and by an attorney on the opposing team.
Judges score aspects of the trial, including the performance of witnesses. Teams are generally composed of six to 10 students.
The F&M team saw success in previous tournaments this year hosted by George Washington University, the University of Rochester, and Carnegie Mellon University.
“With each year I have been a part of this program, I have seen it grow in size and dedication,” Woods said.
Below, a few members of the team reflect on the past season and their F&M experience.
What was it like competing during this challenging pandemic year?
Vanessa Woods, senior: Doing this in a pandemic had its challenges in terms of bringing everyone together and maintaining our bond as a program. But it also helped us a lot in other ways. Because everything was online, we were able to attend many more practice competitions and scrimmage more schools.
Jolie Rosenberg, junior: Personally, it took me a while to find my presentation style on Zoom, but once I mastered that, virtual trials began to feel pretty normal.
It was also difficult not getting to practice all together in Stager Hall, like we do normally, but we held some Zoom Hangout sessions throughout the year so everyone could still keep up with one another.
Soseh Yepoyan, junior: Online competitions via Zoom definitely created a different atmosphere, which came with advantages and disadvantages. It opened the door to new opportunities as we were able to participate in more invitationals in the fall and scrimmage schools that we would not have been able to travel to in a normal season. On the flip side, it is obviously a very different experience sitting alone in front of your computer.
Why did you choose F&M? Were you initially interested in law, or did that interest develop later?
Woods: I chose F&M for a multitude of reasons. I liked the small size of the school due to the access it would give me to professors and I was impressed with their government department. But a big reason why I chose F&M was that, when I was doing my college tours, F&M was the first campus where I felt comfortable. It sort of felt like home from the start.
As for my interest in law, I have been interested in law since high school and was excited to continue to explore that interest at F&M. Law school is something I am considering for my future, but I am also interested in exploring other options as well.
Rosenberg: I chose F&M for the excellent reputation of the government and history departments and the close interactions I would get to have with my professors. I was always interested in law and I knew that the close connections I would be able to make with my professors would help me grow my passion.
Yepoyan: I wanted a small, liberal arts college known for its strong academics. Since a young age, I’ve always expressed an interest in law and social justice. My plan is to practice law in the hopes of becoming a judge one day.
Mock Trial for All Majors
Mock trial participation doesn’t just appeal to pre-law students. Pre-med and STEM majors are drawn to the team to practice testifying as expert witnesses, while students with a penchant for theatrics or public speaking may enjoy acting out each trial role. Regardless of academic background, students gain invaluable critical thinking skills.