Mock Trial Strategies

Mock Trial Skills

Clarence Darrow, Scopes Monkey Trial, July 21, 1925

Exercise 1: Open-Ended Questions vs. Leading Questions

  • Goals:
    • Team members get to know one another
    • Learn the difference between open and closed ended questions
    • Prepare for direct and cross examination
    • Team building: fun activity before the case comes out
  • Exercise
    • Break team members into groups of three
    • Team members choose roles of an attorney doing 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 question is not open ended
    • Using this testimony, the cross attorney then creates a story using only closed ended question (questions can only have a yes or no answer)
    • Mirror the difference between open and closed ended questions
    • Allow about 10 minutes
    • Switch roles until everyone has a chance to do each role
  • Variation: Use an actual witness statement (this requires the witness to learn the material)
  • Reflection afterward
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of each type of questioning?
    • Which was more difficult to do?
    • Did you learn anything else from this exercise?

Exercise 2: The Expert Witness Interview

  • Goals
    • Goal for the interviewer is to draw out an expert through open ended questions
    • Goal for the witness is to ‘live’ their expertise realistically regardless of how ridiculous the topic is or how little knowledge they have on the subject
    • Good training exercise before the case comes out
    • Team building: have fun 
  • Preparations:
    • Prepare ahead a list of ‘expert’ topics. Have fun with them without making them too obtuse.
    • Examples: a cabbage expert, a save the sand fly expert, a maker of noises for the SFX department, the hamburger tasting specialist
  • Exercise:
    • Form pairs. Decide who is expert and who is interviewer
    • Can do this in pairs or in front of the entire group
    • The interviewer’s opening question or introduction lets the expert know his area of expertise
    • Example: “We’re extremely fortunate today to have with us in the studio, Ivanovich Klauss. 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
    • Swap roles so everyone has a chance to be an interviewer and an expert
  • Reflections:
    • What did you learn about interviewing and expert witness
    • What did the expert witnesses learn?
    • How do you think interviewing an expert witness would be different than interviewing a lay witness

Exercise 3: A Mock Trial of a Fairy Tale

  •  Goals:
    • Introduce new team members to Mock Trial
    • Have fun and build team motivation
    • Learn about Mock Trial without any pressure
    • Learn the steps of a a Mock Trial
  • Preparation:
    • Choose a fairy tale to use in a Mock Trial simulation
    • Ideas include:
      • Goldilocks is accused of trespass
      • The wolf is accused of eating Little Read Riding Hood’s grandmother.
  • Exercise:
    • Roles given several days in advance
    • Last year’s team members take lead roles. New members can be the jury if they do not want to participate
    • Excellent for returning team members to do in the an early meeting

Exercise 4: Mock Trial Impromptu

  • Goals:
    • Practice public speaking skills
    • Develop the ability to think on one’s feet
    • Learn specific information relevant to Mock Trial
    • Reinforce knowledge team members already know
    • Practice subjects team members may have to address with the court or jury
    • Best used later in the season
  • Preparation:
    • Coach creates  a list of impromptu topics relevant to Mock Trial
    • List should include both easy and difficult topics
  • Exercise:
    • 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
    • Encourage experienced team members to take more difficult topics
    • Give each speaker 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
  • Reflections
    • What did the speaker do will in terms of their presentation
    • Discuss the substance of what they said
      • Would you add anything?
      • Coach gives the final summary
      • If students are really struggling, have someone else come up and try to get it right
  • Resume: A new team member comes up and chooses a different topic

Exercise 5: Historical and Literary Opening Statements and Closing Arguments

  • Goals:
    • Develop public speaking skills
    • Work specifically on trial oratory skills (as compared to impromptu)
    • Analyze and learn about opening statements and closing arguments 
  • Preliminary discussion
    • Go over what makes a good opening statement and closing argument
    • Talk about how they differ and their purpose
  • Exercise
    • Team members choose a historical/literary opening statement or closing argument and deliver it.
    • Opening statement and closing arguments can be broken into parts so that several team members deliver a part of the speech in the correct sequence.
    • Team members can use the opening statement and closing argument in the link or find ones on their own that they think are interesting
  • Discussion after each presentation
    • What did the speaker do well?
    • What can the speaker do to improve?
    • Was the opening statement or closing argument a good one?
      • Why or why not? 
      • Would a speech like this work for a Mock Trial?  Why or why not?

Exercise 6: Telling a Story about the Case

  • Goals:
    • Develop public speaking skills
    • Develop story telling skills
    • Convert the case into a story
    • Start memorizing the key facts
  • Exercise
    • 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:
    • Plot
    • Story Structure
    • Characters
    • Setting
    • Interesting style and tone

Exercise 7: Creating an Objection Log

  • Goals:
    • Learn to identify and make objections
    • Identify all of the possible objections that could be made regardless of their strength
    • Create a master objection log for use in the competition
  • Preparation
    • Explain the typical substantive objections that are made in a Mock Trial 
      • Relevance
      • Hearsay
      • Improper opinion
      • Inadmissible character evidence
    • Coach creates a list for their own reference of all possible objections to witnesses and evidence
    • Coach creates a blank objection log accessible by computer to be filled out by team members (names of the witnesses and exhibits can be listed not any objections)
    • Computers
    • Handout listing the possible objections
    • Handout blank witness statements and exhibits to be marked up
    • A highlighter
    • The rules of evidence from the case material
  • Exercise – Part 1 (small group work) 
    • Divide team members into three groups as follows:
      • Group 1 & 2: Several lay witnesses from each side and some attorneys
      • Group 3:  The expert witnesses from each side and some attorneys  
    • Each group designates someone to be the scribe to fill in the objection log on the computer 
    • The person playing the witness reads the witness statement slowly
    • The other team members listening make objections to portions of the testimony, cite the evidence rule in the material, and give their reasons
    • The person playing the witness highlights the portion of their statement that was objected to
    •  After an objection is made any other person in the group can give a response to it  
    • The scribe records everything in the log
  •  Exercise- Part II (large group work)
    • For each witness, the group identifies the objections made
    • Coach helps flush out the strength and weakness of each objection
    • Coach also helps identify objections that were not made by:
      • Reading a portion of the witness statement until an objection is made
      • Asking questions that facilitate the team recognizing the possible objection
    • Scribes continue to update the objection log with new information
  • Followup and reflection
    • Highlighted witness statements are handed into the coach
    • The filled in objection log will be online to update
    • Coach cleans up the master objection log so that is clear 
    • In next meeting the coach facilitates a discussion as to what the team thinks the strongest objections are
      • What is it that the team most wants to keep out of evidence and how do they do it? 
      • What attorney will be responsible for knowing and making these objection?

List of Possible Objectons

Blank Objection Log

Exercise 8: Group Practice

  • Timing
    • Case analysis is completed
    • Preliminary drafts of opening, directs and crosses are all done
    • Witnesses have their roles pretty much down
    • Attorneys doing directs have practiced their directs with their witness
  •  Goals
    • Practice
    • Learn material
    • Modify drafts
    • Identify  strengths and weaknesses
  • Exercises
    • Work in triads (witness, direct and cross attorney)
    • Do a complete direct and cross
      • At first without objections
      • later with objections
    • Change triads as each group finishes
    • Attorneys doing Opening and Closings  work together in groups also 
    • Configuration depends on how many duplicate roles there are.  When team members have to sit out they can observe another group.
  • Reflection
    • What went well
    • What needs to be improved
    • How much time did it take?

Exercise 9: The Witness Workshop

  • Suggest having only the witnesses attend
    • Allows witnesses to bond and get into roles
    • Including attorneys gives rise to a different set of questions
  • Preparation
    • Hand out  agenda or write it on the board
    • Best later in the season after witnesses know their roles
    • Best if witnesses have completed their witness profile
  • Time Allotment
    • 4 to 5 hours with breaks
    • Bring in snacks/food/drinks
    • Weekend is better than after school

Exercise 10: The Evidence Workshop

  • Suggest having only the attorneys attend
    • Designed for direct and cross attorneys
    • Other attorneys can come but will not be active participants
  • Preparation
    • Hand out agenda or write it on the board
    • Do  later in the season after attorneys know the case
    • Complete Evidence Objection Log beforehand
    • Have Objection List Handout 
  • Time Allotment
    • 4 hours with breaks 
    • Bring in snacks/food/drinks
    • Weekend is better than after school

Additional Resources

Street Law’s Classroom Guide to Mock Trials and Moot Courts, Alexandra M. Ashbrook, J.D, McGraw Hill/Glencoe Publishers  

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