Reed Mock Trial Team Escapes to Beach

After winning bid at Regionals, team will head to Santa Monica for ORCs

Last weekend, one of Reed’s two mock trial teams won big at their Regionals competition in Seattle, WA. Their unexpected victory led to the team advancing to the Opening Round Championships (ORCs) for the first time in 11 years. The ORCs will take place March 8–10 in Santa Monica, CA.

Photo courtesy of Alisa Chen

Photo courtesy of Alisa Chen

A mock trial tournament resembles a real trial in some ways. A single case, created by the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA), is argued across the country for the entire year, although the case is significantly changed twice over the season in order to balance out the sides. Each team prepares both a plaintiff case and a defense case. Over the course of each weekend-long tournament, they will have the opportunity to argue each of their cases twice. Each case is argued in front of two judges, who are generally law students or lawyers but are occasionally actual judges. “It’s like chess,” fun-loving senior Nancy McWilliams said. “Each team has the same pieces of case law, case theories, affidavits, and evidence … Based on that, you create your own theory and create your own experience, which … makes it interesting every time.”

The fictitious mock trial case for this academic year concerned an animal trainer who brought a chimpanzee onto a television set, and the chimpanzee then killed one of the writers on set. Both sides sued — the trainer because he lost his animal sanctuary that he had hoped would be saved by the chimpanzee’s appearance on TV, the studio because the show got cancelled due to the writer’s death. The plaintiff argues in favor of the studio, while the defense argues in favor of the chimpanzee trainer.

Each of Reed’s two teams has three witnesses and three attorneys for each side, although there is some overlap: a person who is a witness for the defense might be an attorney for the plaintiff, for example. The teams also practice with coaches, one of whom is an alum. Unlike at some of the larger schools, where coaches are paid, the Reed coaches are volunteers. The team captains deserve most of the credit for the team’s success this season, though. “Props all go to [Captains] Lindsay [Zigmant] and Sarah [Helen] for building the program from nothing two years ago,” McWilliams said. “Literally the entire team left except for them. They’ve just put in so much hard work. They just created this whole community.”

Mock trial at Reed stresses fun and learning above all else. “I got interested in the club my freshman year because I wanted to make friends,” the enthused McWilliams said. “It was a good way to get to know people.” Fun is the reason most of the students join the team. “One of my high school friends added me to the college mock trial meme page, so I was like, why not,” junior Shawn Owens said when asked why he decided to join the team. Freshman Alisa Chen added that, although she was initially ambivalent about staying on the team due to time constraints, she was glad that she continued. “It’s a super fun combination of being a big nerd and camaraderie,” she said.

The last time a Reed mock trial team made it to ORCs was 11 years ago. This year, the team’s hard work has finally paid off. They practice twice a week on their arguments and devote entire weekends to tournaments. Team captains work even harder. “The most rewarding thing [about mock trial] … has been getting to see [the team captains’] hard work pay off after 4 years,” Owens said. “I really hope that we get to ORCs again next year and that we get a lot of freshmen on the team next year so that we can keep the team going.”

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