Another Record-Breaking Season

Dickinson sends two mock-trial teams to the nationals

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Group shots of Dickinson's two mock trial teams.Four years ago, Dickinson's mock-trial team broke college records when it advanced to the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) opening-round tournament—a victory that the team has repeated every year since. And this year, Dickinson logged another college first, sending not one, but two teams to the opening round of the nationals in Easton, Pa., widely considered the most challenging of the super-regionals.

"It's a significant accomplishment for a small, liberal-arts college, because we're competing against top programs from large universities, which draw from much larger pools," says Associate Professor of Political Science Doug Edlin, who co-coaches the Dickinson teams with Judge Edward Guido '72. And, he adds, it's an accomplishment with far-reaching effects.

Gearing up

The stage was set in September, when teams at more than 500 AMTA-member colleges and universities received a 140-page file outlining the details of a fictional wrongful-death case.

The students combed through the affidavits and statements and mapped out legal strategies for both the defense and plaintiff.  Throughout the year they refined their arguments and competed in regional matches, and last month, with the nationals looming, they ratcheted up the practice sessions, sometimes drilling for several hours each day.  

Along the way, Edlin says, the students gained an insider's view of the legal system and flexed skills in persuasive oral advocacy, analytical thinking, teamwork and communicating clearly and effectively in a high-pressure situation. Mock-trial seniors and young alumni and have applied those skills in a variety of ways. Some are attending, or have been accepted at, the law schools at the universities of Virginia and Michigan, at Harvard's Kennedy School, and at Columbia, Yale, Georgetown, Duke and New York universities. Another alum is enrolled at a Ph.D. program at the University of Massachusetts, while still others have entered the Teach for America and City Year programs.

Onward, upward

At Easton, the students demonstrated the reason for these successes when they presented their case in a fiercely competitive environment. While historic champs like New York University and the University of Virginia drew from four to six mock-trial teams, sending only their most experienced competitors to the finals, smaller colleges like Dickinson had fewer students to choose from and often included several first- and second-year students on the bill.

In the end, the 2013 Dickinson teams did not advance to second round of the nationals in Washington, D.C. But they performed well, tallying three wins and a tie, and garnering two awards for individual performances.

Will Nelligan'14, who took home an outstanding-witness award, says that while it was challenging to stay in character throughout the entire three-and-a-half-hour proceeding, he's thrilled by the result.

Four-year mock-trial veteran Gina Del Rio '13, who received an individual award for her performance as a defense attorney at Easton, agrees. She plans to pursue a career in courtroom law as a result of her experiences on the mock-trial team and notes that her presentation of the case's closing argument at Easton seemed a fitting cap to an important aspect of her Dickinson career.

"Because of my experiences with mock trial, I've become much more confident and effective at public speaking and framing an argument—that's something that translates into a lot of fields," she says. "But I also learned that I really love the law. It's a lot of hard work, but it's also a lot of fun."

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Published April 12, 2013