Over the past several weeks, Bowdoin students have been preparing for court battles. The proceedings, however, are not real, but the simulations and practices of the new Mock Trial team.
Jacob Russell ’17 and Allisen Haggard ’17—along with a few other first years—joined forces at a social science talk during orientation. Their interest in Mock Trial and Bowdoin’s lack of an organized team led to the creation of the new club.
After recruiting the remaining founding members at the Student Activities Fair, the young team began preparing for competition.
“We got a booth, about 50 people signed up, and then not a lot of them showed up to auditions,” said Russell. “We, from the beginning, realized that we want to have about 20 people in the end, but we didn’t want to take them all this year. Now we have seven.”
In order to compete with other colleges, the team needed a faculty advisor and an attorney coach. Adjunct Lecturer of Government George Isaacson agreed to serve as advisor, and connected the team with Conner Beatty, a young attorney from his Lewiston-based law firm, Brann & Isaacson, who serves as the team’s attorney coach.
“My Mock Trial experience was fairly limited coming into this year,” wrote Beatty in an email to the Orient. “I knew that I could use my legal knowledge and my public speaking experience to help the team, but beyond that, this first year has been a learning experience for me as well as the students.”
The Mock Trial season begins in late August when the case packet—a booklet of information regarding the case that will ultimately be argued by the team—is released to all participating teams.
Several months later, the team members compete by enacting the roles of the attorneys and witnesses in the mock trial. Both on the prosecution and defense, members of the team are awarded points based on their arguments and performances. The points are not necessarily linked to the outcome of the trial.
“The way you compete against other schools is that you have to, as a school, be ready to be both prosecution and defense,” said Haggard. “You have to have both sides of the case prepared, and you don’t know [your side] until five minutes before the competition.”
Despite the team’s youth, Bowdoin Mock Trial enjoyed a successful first season that far exceeded anyone’s expectations. The team competed against several regional schools earlier this year and ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.
Damian Ramsdell ’17 received an individual witness award at the very first competition.
Although the team did not qualify for the national competition, they are optimistic about next year.
“My proudest moment as a coach was when, after facing one of the top teams at our first tournament, I informed the judge that we were a brand new team. She was shocked,” wrote Beatty. “When I informed her that in fact, the current team was comprised of one sophomore and six first years, the judge’s jaw dropped.”
Haggard and Russell both participated in Mock Trial in high school, and that interest followed them to college.
While their experiences with Mock Trial before Bowdoin differ, they both are excited to be engaged with the team and help it continue to grow.
Mock Trial “was very, very intense in my high school,” said Haggard. “That’s where I made my best friends, and I was very close with the coach. That’s why I wanted to continue the experience in college. It was rewarding.”
This spring, the team will focus on workshops that will prepare the now veteran team members and new team members alike for the next case in the fall. Ideally, they will field a larger, more competitive team for the next round of competitions.
“We’d like to see an A team and a B team,” Russell said. “If we keep the consistent numbers we’ve had, including adding people, we’ll have enough people to have two teams. That will allow people to get a chance at arguing, which you can’t really simulate. And then [we would] also have a team of people who have done it for three or four years, who can really be competitive.”
Beatty is also looking forward to the team’s expansion and development next season.
“This first year was all about getting the basics down,” he wrote. “Going forward, I’m looking for the team to build on the skills they developed this year and to continue to expand their knowledge of the law.”