TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — With a team that’s only existed for five years – and this year’s team being particularly green at that – no one expected The University of Alabama Mock Trial Team to come out of the Mid-South Invitational in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, one of the largest collegiate mock trial tournaments in the country, on top.
But that’s exactly what they did.
Over Veterans Day weekend, UA’s Mock Trial Team competed against more than 50 mock trial teams from 31 universities, included traditional mock trial powerhouses like Rhodes College, Florida State University and Vanderbilt University, and won first place overall along with seven team members winning individual awards. UA has three practice teams of 10 students each; the teams are named Paul, Bear and Bryant.
“This is the single greatest result that this program has ever had,” said Jordan LaPorta, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science and history at UA and captain of the Paul UA Mock Trial Team. “We’ve only been around for five years now, and in terms of mock trial, this is a new program. So to be a powerhouse at this tournament really surprised a lot of people.
“What we expected going into this tournament was to do well and to get a lot of the new individuals on the team some quality experience against some good teams. But we were surprised at how well the new talent did against some great, experienced talent.”
Read Mills, a 22-year-old senior majoring in political science and philosophy and captain of the Bear UA Mock Trial Team, said this was the first time that this year’s Bear team had been to an invitational tournament.
“This win shows the quality and the commitment of this University education-wise,” he said.
Lauren Crawford is also a co-captain of the team.
The students who won seven individual awards were Mills for best attorney; Norris Davis for best witness; Chance Sturup for best attorney; Crawford for best attorney; Andrew Belt for best witness; Aly Laroche for best witness; and Noah Caldwell for best attorney.
Mock trial events simulate a trial and require their participants to learn the facts of the case and craft legal arguments and theories to best present those facts, said Dr. Allen Linken, an assistant professor of political science and coach of the UA Mock Trial Team. Participants present opening and closing statements, examine friendly witnesses from their team on direct examination, cross-examine hostile witnesses from other universities and learn and practice evidentiary procedure.
Teams practice in competitive invitational tournaments before competing in regional elimination tournaments. They then move onto the Opening Round Championship, another elimination tournament and finally the national championship.
“There are over 300 universities and over 600 teams that participate in mock trials,” Linken said. “Every university has at least one team. Alabama has two, larger programs have more.
“It’s almost a hidden jewel, but there’s a lot of interest in it. It’s very competitive. It teaches students how to argue, publicly speak, and they’re hit with things they wouldn’t expect to see how they react. It’s like the Joe Louis quote, ‘Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.’”
The UA students participating in mock trial come from a variety of majors, but most are on their way to law school.
“It definitely prepares students for pre-law, and we have a tremendous record of sending students to law school, but it also prepares them for their careers because the skillset you learn is valuable to everyone,” Linken said.
Every year’s case is different. This year the case the teams have to prepare and argue is about age discrimination in the changing landscape of journalism. The scenario presents traditional Rolling Stone-like print magazine that gets bought out. The new CEO transforms the business into a digital-only, Buzzfeed-like company that slowly pushes out the older writers in favor of younger writers that can more easily speak to younger target audiences.
The next move for the UA Mock Trial Team members is to head to the regional tournament the Mississippi College School of Law in Jackson. If they earn one of the bids from that tournament, they will move to the Opening Round Championships in Decatur, Georgia, in March. If they do well in the opening round, they’ll have an opportunity to attend the national tournament in Los Angeles in April. Only the top 48 teams from across the nation will be invited to nationals.
“We’ll just have to see how we do,” Linken said. “There’s so much motivation and desire with these students that it’s quite frankly incredible. I’m very proud of them.”
For more about mock trial, go to uamocktrial.com.
The University of Alabama, the state’s oldest and largest public institution of higher education, is a student-centered research university that draws the best and brightest to an academic community committed to providing a premier undergraduate and graduate education. UA is dedicated to achieving excellence in scholarship, collaboration and intellectual engagement; providing public outreach and service to the state of Alabama and the nation; and nurturing a campus environment that fosters collegiality, respect and inclusivity.