For the last seven months, more than 2,000 high school students across the state have been competing in mock trials, engaging in lively, theatrical re-enactments of an actual court case while they learn about the law. This entertaining and educational learning experience, the Maryland State Bar Association’s (MSBA) 2010 Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition, has been a hit with young people for 27 years. MSBA presents the annual competition as a public service program to enhance young people’s understanding about the legal system.
The final championship round of MSBA’s 2010 Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition will be held on April 30, at the Court of Appeals of Maryland, with the Honorable Mary Ellen Barbera presiding. But, every high school student on every one of the 120 teams competing in this lively contest will walk away a winner. These students, their teachers and their parents learn about the law and expand their knowledge about our legal system through this MSBA public education program.
Mock Trials, presented by volunteer lawyers and judges in conjunction with the Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP), MSBA’s educational arm in the school system, attract thousands of Maryland high school students, teachers, attorneys and judges every year. The students engage in lively, theatrical mock trial re-enactments and, working closely with volunteer lawyers and judges, learn firsthand about the law. Courtroom drama unfolds in this mock trial competition as teams of students, coached by teachers and volunteer lawyers, enact a mock trial while a volunteer judge deliberates.
The mock trials always involve contemporary high school concerns so the issues are germane to the students’ lives. This year’s mock trial case involves a harassment/assault case where an incident of “bullying” escalates into harassment, culminating in an assault, with mitigating circumstances. Harassment and bullying, whether via the Internet or in person, are concerns for many young people and this case illustrates how quickly an incident can explode into a life-changing event.
“This year’s case involves high school students getting involved in harassment that eventually leads to one party being seriously and perhaps permanently injured,” explains CLREP Executive Director Ellery “Rick” Miller, Jr. “We wanted to explore how an incident that starts out to be low-level harassment and bullying can escalate in a moment to something that impacts all concerned for the rest of their lives. It is sad but true that incidents of harassment and bullying are on the increase, not just here in the U.S. but also in Europe.”
“Some young people have even videotaped or filed these acts and then posted them on the web,” Miller continues. “Young people have so much more access to information today than ever before, but, through mock trial and other law-related activities, we want to give them the opportunity to think critically. Too often, kids learn about court by being there as a defendant or a victim. We want to bring the law to life for them while helping them to avoid the pitfalls of senseless behavior.”
Since its inception in 1983, CLREP has organized and presented the mock trial contest, which has grown from five teams in 1983 to today’s 120 teams. To date, more than 44,000 Maryland high school students have participated in this entertaining and educational program.
Students from high schools across the state actually sign up for the competition in October and immediately begin preparing for the contest with their team’s volunteer lawyer and teacher coaches. CLREP works with students, teachers, volunteer attorney coaches and judges as the administrator of the Mock Trial Competition, mapping out the competition, forming the teams, selecting and analyzing the case and working with the teams and coaches to devise their trial strategy.
The mock trial program begins with local matches, advances to regional contests and ultimately concludes in the final state championship. Each mock trial is held in a real courtroom with a real volunteer judge presiding to offer the students an upfront and realistic view of the key role that attorneys and judges play in our justice system. Most teams log roughly 100 hours or more in preparation and competition time, although the time commitment does go as high as 150 hours for some teams. This year’s mock trial was enacted over 600 times during the competition.
MSBA’s mock trial public education program enables young people to learn about the law, our court system and the legal system in a fun and entertaining way. The volunteer attorneys and judges enjoy the competition, too, and find it quite rewarding. They interact with students in a creative and educational environment and get caught up in the excitement along with the students.
“We have an amazing group of incredibly dedicated people who are invaluable to Mock Trial,” declares CLREP Assistant Director Shelley Wojciechowski. “I am continually amazed at the level of service and amount of the volunteer time attorneys, judges, educators and courthouse personnel contribute to this program each year. These folks are the backbone of MSBA Mock Trial.”
Through MSBA’s interactive and educational contest, high school students learn firsthand about the rule of law, trial procedures and the roles of attorneys and judges. They gain insight into the workings of our justice system and better understand its function in society. They see the law in action and develop a more constructive attitude about our country’s legal system. Ultimately, they emerge from this competition as well-informed citizens who are more knowledgeable about our legal system.