Mock Trial Strategies

Mock Trial Skills

Clarence Darrow, Scopes Monkey Trial, July 21, 1925

The Difference between Open Ended and Leading Questions

  • Good exercise for  before the actual Mock Trial case comes.   It can also help the students get to know one another.
  • Break students into groups of three.
  • Students choose roles of an attorney doing a Direct Examination, an attorney doing Cross Examination and a witness
  • Direct attorney asks Witness about what they did last summer or what their hobbies are using only open ended questions (Question must begin with a who, what, when, where, why or how).
  • Cross attorney can object (“Objection leading the witness”) if the Dire
  • Using this testimony, the Cross attorney then creates a story using only closed ended question. (Questions a witness can only answer yes or no to).
  • Allow about 10 minutes.
  • Switch roles until everyone has had a chance to do each role.
  • Variation: Can use an actual witness statement, however, this requires the witness to learn the material.

Expert Witness Interview

  • Another good exercise for before the case comes out.
  • Prepare ahead a list of ‘expert’ topics. Have fun with them without making them too obtuse with the result no-one gets them.
  • Examples: a cabbage expert, a save the sand fly expert, a maker of noises for the SFX department, the hamburger tasting specialist…
  • Pair the players off. Have them decide which is expert and which is interviewer
  • The interviewer then collects the expert’s topic from you. Their opening question or introduction lets the expert know his area.
  • Example: “We’re extremely fortunate today to have with us in the studio, Ivanovich Trump. Ivanovich is a well known, respected and published expert on the benefits of teaching children to read underwater. Ivanovich, I’d like to begin to by asking when you first realized your vocation?”
  • The exercise ends when the interviewer brings it to a close.
  • The goal for the expert is to ‘live’ into their expertise realistically and wholeheartedly regardless of how ridiculous the topic is or how little knowledge they have on the subject.
  • The goal for the interviewer is to draw out the expert by asking open ended questions.
  • Swap the roles over so everybody has a turn at both.

Mock Trial of a Faerie Tale

  • Another good exercise before the case comes out.
  • Choose a faerie tale that the students will conduct a fun mini mock trial on. Ideas include:
    • Goldilocks is accused of trespass;
    • The wolf is accused of eating Little Read Riding Hoods Grandmother.
  • Roles given several days in advance
  • Can be done by last year’s team members at the first Mock Trial meeting for new members. (shows new potential members that Mock Trial can be fun!)
  • Could be done by both experienced and new students after some of the basics of Mock Trial are taught. 

Mock Trial Impromptu Topics

  • This exercise is best later on in the season.
  • For more difficult questions use team members who were in Mock Trial last year.
  • The coach teacher goes first by choosing a topic and mirroring a speech.
  • Then team members come up one at a time and take a look at the list of all possible topics and then choose one to speak to the class about.
  • Give them a minute to think about what they are going to say before they start.
  • Impromptu speech is for 1 minute, but do not adhere to a strict time limit because the goal is to educate.
  • Get feedback from other team members on both
    • Presentation style
    • Substance
  • Coach/teacher facilitates a discussion/explains the possible answers afterwards.
  • A new team member comes up and chooses a different topic.

Telling a Story about the Case

  • This exercise is used after the case is obtained but before roles are chosen.
  • Students take turns telling a story about what happened in the case. Like any good story it should have an beginning, body, and end.  The student should try to make the story interesting and create drama.
  • Alternate between stories told from the prosecution/plaintiff side and the defense side.
  • Students can also tell stories from the point of view of the non-expert witnesses.
  • The story should include the following elements:
    • Theme
    • Plot
    • Story Structure
    • Characters
    • Setting
    • Interesting style and tone.

Learning and Practicing Objections

  • Relates to substantive objections not objections as to the form of the quesiton.
  • To be used after the case comes out and students know a little about what to object to.
  • The coach reads a witness statement in front of the class.
  • Version 1: Anyone in the class can object and anyone in the class can respond to the objection.
  • Version 2: . Certain students are designated as the Prosecution/Plaintiff attorney and Defense attorney ahead of time. 
  • If the coach gets to a part of the testimony that is objectional (for example hearsay, relevancy, etc.) and no objection is made, the coach keeps rereading the same testimony until the students figure it out.
  • After the objection is made the coach gives a preliminary ruling and lets the students argue it further.  The coach then leads a discussion on the objection and what arguments might have changed the result. 

Half Day Witness Workshop

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Half Day Evidence Workshop

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Additional Resources

Street Law’s Classroom Guide to Mock Trials and Moot Courts, Alexandra M. Ashbrook, J.D, McGraw Hill/Glencoe Publishers  (Cost is $31 at this source)

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