UWS mock trial program hosts regional tournament this weekendSome say it’s fun, challenging; some say it makes them better students and better people.
Some say it’s fun, challenging; some say it makes them better students and better people.
Maria Cuzzo, an attorney, says the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s mock trial program is the closest thing to legal reality short of getting a client.
Mock trial is an academic forensic activity that teaches students how to analyze the law and facts of a legal case, and to argue and present cases in a trial court. Over the past decade, UWS’ mock trial program has risen to regional prominence and earned respect at the national level, placing third at Harvard University’s Crimson Classic mock trial tournament and placing or earning recognition at several national tournaments.
The campus community and Superior get a chance to see the college’s two mock trial teams in action this weekend when the university hosts the Upper Midwest Durst Memorial Regional Tournament. Competition begins at 6:30 p.m. today in the Yellowjacket Union and continues with competition rounds starting at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Saturday and the final round starting at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Spectators should arrive at least 15 minutes before the start of each round.
The UWS tournament is among a handful of regional competition sites around the country. The Durst Memorial Regional will include teams from 24 universities in Wisconsin and Minnesota. The top eight teams will advance to national-level competition next month in St. Paul.
Cuzzo, a professor of legal studies at UWS and a long-time coach of the mock trial teams, said mock trial is “the perfect liberal arts experience” because it requires students to learn the law, to work with teammates to craft strategy, to be able to argue both sides of the case equally well, and to analyze facts and arguments.
Students on the team agree that it’s a great learning experience.
“Because of mock trial, I have better interpersonal skills, better public speaking skills, and even better control of my emotions,” said Alicia Kline, a legal studies and international peace studies major from Baraboo, Wis. “It’s helped me to learn how to think analytically and on my feet. I’ve learned how to be professional. It’s also taught me about work ethic and being accountable to other people who are relying on me to do my part.”
UWS’ mock trial team was begun shortly after the university added its legal studies major in 1998. The competition initially was considered a good learning experience, but after a couple years students on the team met with Cuzzo and told her they believed they had the skill and desire to make the program competitive.
“Our school made a decision that we were going to be a learning community but also that we were going to win,” Cuzzo said.
This year’s mock trial program includes 16 students making up two teams. Coaches are Cuzzo and Tracy Schramm, a partner in the Bateman and Schramm law firm in Duluth and an alumna of UWS and its mock trial program.
Some mock trial students are majoring in legal studies or criminal justice, but the team is open to students with any major. International students often join the team, facing additional challenges of language and an unfamiliar legal system. They all make a commitment to stick with a season that starts in September and continues to April without a break.
The students said they appreciate working with coaches who have legal backgrounds.
“It’s really helpful to have an attorney involved, especially in complicated cases,” said Daniel Mason, a legal studies major from Madison. With their legal training, Cuzzo and Schramm can lead them through drills, advise them on courtroom procedures, and help them work together as a team, he said.
Mock trial is a learning experience, so after recruiting members each fall, the team begins with the basics. Cuzzo said early season practices start with “What is a trial?” and examine the role trials play in American culture. Team members examine the anatomy of a trial – opening statements, testimony, closing statements – along with strategy and how to put together legal arguments.
Each year, the 650 mock trial teams across the country are assigned the same fictional case by the American Mock Trial Association, the governing body of mock trial competitions. Once the case is assigned, team members go to work analyzing the details and developing their strategy to try the case.