Mock Trial Team Makes Its Case on the National Stage

In only its second year, Muhlenberg's squad advanced to the second round of the American Mock Trial Association's annual national tournament.

By: Brittany Risher  Thursday, March 25, 2021 09:37 AM

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Muhlenberg College's Mock Trial Team needed to hone their skills in a virtual environment for this year's competitions.

With time, experienced attorneys master techniques like walking around, pausing and using certain hand gestures to make their arguments more persuasive. But when courtrooms closed due to the coronavirus, lawyers had to adjust their presentations to be just as convincing over a video conference.

Similarly, with only a year of experience under their belt, the Muhlenberg College mock trial team had to refine their skills for Zoom this year. “In court, when make you objections or the opening statement, it's very common to walk around and use movement for emphasis. You can't really do that online, but certain judges want to see that. So we ask the judges before about their preferences,” says Samantha Horowitz '22, a history major who is the captain of the plaintiff team.

Clearly these changes worked, as the team qualified for the Opening Round Championship Series after placing fourth at a regional in February. Horowitz and Muntasir Ali '23, a prelaw English and economics double major, also each won outstanding attorney awards at regionals.

“This is only my second year ever doing mock trial. I never did it in high school,” Ali says. “I wasn't that great last year, so it feels good knowing I've improved a lot since then and that AMTA (the American Mock Trial Association) recognized and acknowledged that.”

All of this began with Horowitz's initiative. Last fall, she approached Assistant Professor of Political Science Ross Dardani about starting a mock trial team. “I did mock trial in high school and loved it, but I came to college and thought I didn't want to do it. It's like a sport—that's the amount of time it requires,” she says. However, by the end of her first year, she missed it. “Mock trial is a great way to meet friends, improve your public speaking skills and keep your mind sharp,” says Horowitz, who currently wants to go into education law.

Both Horowitz and Ali credit their coach, Jes Collett, a practicing attorney and partner of Assistant Physics Professor Charles Collett, for their success. “We would not have made it this far without her,” Ali says. “She has been supremely helpful in writing and editing crosses and directs and looking over things,” Horowitz adds. This especially helps now, as AMTA makes minor changes to the case before ORCS, in particular adding another potential witness, so teams have to adjust their openings, closings and examinations.

“Mock trial is an excellent way for students to pursue an experience that helps them determine whether law school is good for them,” Dardani says. “It's a lot of work and a real commitment. It's also an excellent way for students to be a part of a small community in which they play an integral role and to develop meaningful friendships that tend to last well beyond the time they are on the team.”

It's all worth it, Horowitz says. “We've done phenomenally well.”