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A Mock Trial is a act or imitation trial. It is similar to a moot court, but mock trials simulate lower-court trials, while moot court simulates appellate court hearings. Attorneys preparing for a real trial might use a mock trial consisting of volunteers to test theories or experiment with each other. In a mock trial the rules are often abbreviated in order to focus on particular parts of the trial.

Mock trial is also the name of an extracurricular program in which students participate in contrived or fake trials to learn new skills and compete with each other. At some law schools, the term trial advocacy is used for the program. Various organizations, such as state bar associations, sponsor mock trial/trial advocacy competitions for middle school students, high school students, college students, and law students.

Interscholastic mock trials take place on three levels. High-school competitive mock trial has an annual national competition governed by the National Mock Trial Association. The competition on the college circuit is governed by the American Mock Trial Association. The college circuit also has an unofficial online forum at Perjuries Mock Trial. Finally, there is mock trial/trial advocacy at the Law School level such as the National Trial Competition hosted by the [69171] Texas Young Lawyers Association and the American College of Trial Lawyers.

Competition framework

Trial information is sent out in summer to early fall (depending on the level) to each of the competing teams. This information consists of the charges and basis of the case, rules that must be followed, and affidavits of each of the testifying or potentially testifying witnesses. Additional information including documents, maps, and diagrams are often included to help teams understand the situation of the case. These can often be introduced at trial as exhibits.

Teams have to study and analyze this information and form their case by the time of competition, typically held in winter to early spring. Each state has its own case every year that is different than the national case. This means that the winners of the state competitions, who move on to nationals, must study and prepare a completely different case in time for the National High School Mock Trial Competition in May.

The teams consist of a maximum of eight official members. These eight members must be organized into two teams of six for the prosecution/plaintiff and defense sides. Both of these six-member sub teams consist of three attorneys and three witnesses.


A student giving his closing argument during a mock trial
The trial begins with the judge coming in. The judge then gives out the instructions to the jury (about what they are to listen to). The judge then lets the prosecution/plaintiff give an opening statement followed by the opening statement of the defense. After the opening statements, examination of the witnesses begins. The prosecution/plaintiff calls up their witnesses first. An attorney for the prosecution/plaintiff does a direct examination of the witness. Once the direct examination is complete, the opposing team may cross-examine the witness. After the cross-examination, if the first team chooses, they may redirect the witness and, likewise, the other team may do a re-cross after this. This process is repeated for the two remaining plaintiff witnesses. Once the prosecution/plaintiff has finished with their witnesses, the process is repeated with the defense witnesses, having the defense attorneys direct and the plaintiff attorneys cross-examine.

Once all of the witnesses have been examined, the trial moves to closing arguments. The plaintiff again goes first. After the defense finishes their closing argument, the plaintiff may give a rebuttal argument if they still have time remaining. In some competitions, the rebuttal is limited to the scope of the defense’s closing argument. Time limits are set at each level of competition to prevent the trials from running too long and to keep rounds of competition running smoothly.


Attorney evaluators give critique at the end of a mock trial competition.
There are several different ways that a mock trial can be judged. In one, the judges for scoring the mock trial consist of the presiding judge and two scoring judges, all of whom score the teams. In a second method, there are two scoring judges and the presiding judge, as in the first method, but the presiding judge does not score the teams, rather he simply votes or casts a ballot for one team or another. In yet another method of judging, there are three scoring judges and the presiding judge is not involved in the scoring of the teams.

The winning team is not necessarily the team that won the verdict in the traditional sense. Instead evaluators score individual attorneys and witnesses on a 1-10 scale based on each stage of the trial. These consist of the opening statements for the plaintiff and defense, each of the witnesses’ testimony, direct and cross-examination by attorneys, and the closing statements for both sides. The team with the highest total number of points is often, but not always, the team that wins the judge's verdict. So, it is possible for the defendant to be found guilty or lose the case but for the defense team to still win the round.

Points can be deducted from a team’s score for testifying with information outside the scope of the mock trial materials and for unsportsmanlike conduct or abuse of objections.

Power Matching

In the first round of the tournament, all of the teams are randomly matched to compete with each other. After the first round of some tournaments, teams are “power matched” to go up against other teams with similar records (i.e. in the second round, a 1-0 team will be matched with another 1-0 team). If there is a tie in record, the judges will use the number of ballots and total points earned to decide the matching. This allows for teams to compete with other teams of similar skill. In later rounds, the power matching forces the first and second place teams to compete against each other, making it easier to determine a winner of the overall competition.

Specific levels of competition

Large-scale competition exists at the high school, undergraduate, and law school levels.

High school

The National High School Mock Trial Championship was begun in 1984. This first competition consisted of teams from Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The competition since has grown and now is considered to be an All-State tournament. Each year, various participating states around the country take turns hosting the tournament. The 2009 Championship was held in Atlanta, Georgiamarker, Philadelphia, Pennsylvaniamarker will host in 2010, and the National Mock Trial Board announced that Phoenix, Arizona will host in 2011. New York State does not participate in the national competition; rather, it has its own intrastate competition consisting of over 350 teams throughout the state. It follows similar rules to that of the national competition. New York has three levels of play, county competition, regional competition, and the finals, which is held in Albany, New Yorkmarker in May. The state of Maryland also does not compete in the National High School tournament, and thus has their own statewide mock trial competition similar to that of New York. New Jersey and North Carolina both pulled out of the competition following the 2005 season due to a refusal by the organization to accommodate an Orthodox Jewish team that had won New Jersey's state championship.

The mock trial program was started to allow high school students to experience the courtroom in a hands-on role. The mock trials are set up and structured just like a real court, bound by the same rules. This can help the students to know exactly what role each of the different people in a court (judges, lawyers, witnesses, etc.) do in the judicial system. Cases typically have to do with problems faced by teens, and will usually involve teenagers as witnesses.

The following is the list of winners of the National High School Mock Trial Championships (since 2000), as well as the runners-ups:

Year Winner 1st Runner-Up 2nd Runner-Up 3rd Runner-Up
2009 John Adams High School (Indiana) Lakeville North High School (Minnesota) Seattle Preparatory Schoolmarker (Washington) Hinsdale Central High Schoolmarker (Illinois)
2008 Jonesboro High School (Georgia) Kalamazoo Central High School (Michigan) The Charter School of Wilmingtonmarker (Delaware) Sandia High School (New Mexico)
2007 Jonesboro High School (Georgia) Kalamazoo Central High School (Michigan) John Adams High School (Indiana) Saint Louis Priory Schoolmarker (Missouri)
2006 Valley High Schoolmarker (Iowa) Kalamazoo Central High School (Michigan) Timothy Christian High School (Illinois) Greensburg Salem High School (Pennsylvania)
2005 Tamalpais High Schoolmarker (California) Kauai High Schoolmarker (Hawaii) University High School (Arizona) Minneapolis South High Schoolmarker (Minnesota)
2004 Bob Jones Academy (South Carolina) Rhinelander High School (Wisconsin) Meadow Creek Christian School (Minnesota) Community High School (Michigan)
2003 FCA Homeschoolers (Tennessee) Glenwood Springs High School (Colorado) John Adams High School marker (Indiana) Riverside Polytechnic High Schoolmarker (California)
2002 FCA Homeschoolers (Tennessee) Quigley Catholic High Schoolmarker (Pennsylvania) Glenwood Springs High School (Colorado) Abraham Lincoln High Schoolmarker (California)
2001 Pocahontas High School (Iowa) Montclair High Schoolmarker (New Jersey) Franklin High School (Washington) Mountain Ridge High School (Arizona)

Kalamazoo Central High School from Kalamazoo, Michigan is the winningest mock trial team in the history of the national competition, having represented Michigan on seventeen different occasions. They have won the national championship once, placed second three consecutive times, and took third place on one other occasion.

Georgia is the winningest state, with four national championships, including two consecutive titles. Jonesboro High School is the first and only public school to win two national titles, let alone back to back titles.


On the inter-collegiate circuit, a mock trial team consists of three attorneys and three witnesses on each side of the case (plaintiff/prosecution and defense). The attorneys are responsible for delivering an opening statement, conducting direct and cross examinations of witnesses and delivering closing arguments. Witnesses are selected in a sports draft format from a pool of approximately eight to 10 available witnesses prior to the round. Typical draft orders are PDPDPD or PPDDPD, but may vary substantially between cases. Judges are usually attorneys or coaches, and in some occasions, practicing judges. A tournament consists of four rounds, two on each side of the case, scored by two judges in each round.

Tournament competition

The season runs in two parts, the invitational season and the regular season. Invitational tournaments are held throughout the fall semester and into early spring across the country.

The regular season begins in late January, starting with regional tournaments. Regionals are held across the country in various locations as qualifiers for the National Championship Tournament. Previously, Teams at each school could earn up to two bids to either the National Championship Tournament (gold flight) or a National Tournament (silver flight). The two National Tournaments, which were held in March, consisted of 48 teams each, with the top 6 teams at each National earning a second-chance bid to the National Championship Tournament, which was held in April. (In the 2007-2008 season, a new National Tournament format was adopted with 4 National sites instead of 2, with half as many teams at each tournament and only 3 second-chance bids awarded at each to the Championship).

The 2008-2009 season will usher in a change in the way bids are allocated the National Championship. Each school will still be limited to two post-regional bids, but the National Tournaments will be replaced with Super Regionals dubbed "Opening Round National Championships", and there will no longer be a direct bid from Regionals to The National Championship. All teams that advance from regionals must compete and advance from Super Regionals to qualify for a berth in the Championship Tournament. There will be 48 total bids the The final tournament.

For 22 years, the National Championship Tournament was held in Des Moines, Iowa, the city in which collegiate mock trial began. The tournament left Iowa for the first time in '07 when St. Petersburg, FL hosted the Championships. The 2008 National Championship Tournament was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 2009 National Championship will return to Des Moines.

Past championship results

On April 9, 2006, the University of Virginia beat Harvard University to win the National Championship. In what was the closest final round in AMTA history, the University of Virginia won the championship by a single point using a tiebreaker, after a three judge panel split with one judge choosing Virginia as the winner, one choosing Harvard, and one calling the round a draw. The University of Virginia's victory ended the recent run by UCLA, who had won the two previous national championships.

On April 15, 2007, the University of Virginia again beat Harvard University to win the National Championship. This marked the first ever re-match of a previous year's final round. Virginia again won via a split decision, winning two of the three ballots in the final round. Virginia also became the 4th program to ever repeat as champions, joining UCLA, the University of Iowa, and Rhodes College, who accomplished this feat twice. Harvard University became the second program to be the runner up in consecutive years, joining University of Maryland, College Park as the only other program to accomplish this feat. Maryland however, had the distinction of losing to themselves in one of their two defeats.

On April 6, 2008, the University of Maryland prevailed over George Washington University in a split ballot decision (2-1). This was the University of Maryland's fifth National Championship giving them more total wins than any other university-previously the University of Maryland was tied with Rhodes, each school winning four titles.

On April 19, 2009, The George Washington University returned to the championship round, but was defeated 5-0 by Northwood University.

Rhodes College will host the 2010 mock trial tournament in Memphis, Tennessee from Friday, April 16 to Sunday, April 18.

The following is the list of winners of the National Championship Tournament, as well as the runners-up:

Year Winner Runner-Up
2009 Northwood University George Washington Universitymarker
2008 University of Maryland, College Parkmarker George Washington Universitymarker
2007 University of Virginiamarker Harvard Universitymarker
2006 University of Virginiamarker Harvard Universitymarker
2005 University of California, Los Angelesmarker Georgia Institute of Technologymarker
2004 University of California, Los Angelesmarker Columbia University
2003 University of Iowamarker Howard Universitymarker
2002 University of Iowamarker Georgetown Universitymarker
2001 Miami University marker Rhodes Collegemarker
2000 University of Maryland, College Parkmarker University of Wisconsin–Milwaukeemarker
1999 Bellarmine Universitymarker Rhodes Collegemarker
1998 University of Maryland, College Parkmarker Bellarmine Universitymarker
1997 Howard Universitymarker Rhodes Collegemarker
1996 University of Maryland, College Parkmarker Saint Louis Universitymarker
1995 Rhodes Collegemarker Loras Collegemarker
1994 Rhodes Collegemarker Bellarmine Universitymarker
1993 Drake Universitymarker University of Maryland, College Parkmarker
1992* University of Maryland, College Parkmarker University of Maryland, College Parkmarker
1991 Rhodes Collegemarker Bellarmine Universitymarker
1990 Rhodes Collegemarker Toledo Community College
1989 Drake Universitymarker University of St. Thomasmarker
1988 University of South Dakota Wright State Universitymarker
1987 University of St. Thomasmarker Bellarmine Universitymarker
1986 Wright State Universitymarker Northwestern Universitymarker
1985 Eastern Illinois Universitymarker Central College
  • Note that following 1992, the "Maryland Rule" was instituted, which places both teams from the same school in the same division in order to ensure there will never be another championship round between two teams from the same school.

National Championship Round Participants

Team Winners Winning Years Runners-Up Runner-Up Years
University of Maryland, College Parkmarker 5 2008, 2000, 1998, 1996, 1992 2 1993, 1992
Rhodes Collegemarker 4 1995, 1994, 1991, 1990 3 2001, 1999, 1997
University of Virginiamarker 2 2007, 2006 0 N/A
University of California, Los Angelesmarker 2 2005, 2004 0 N/A
University of Iowamarker 2 2003, 2002 0 N/A
Drake Universitymarker 2 1993, 1989 0 N/A
Bellarmine Universitymarker 1 1999 4 1998, 1994, 1991, 1987
Howard Universitymarker 1 1997 1 2003
University of St. Thomasmarker 1 1987 1 1989
Wright State Universitymarker 1 1986 1 1988
Northwood University 1 2009 0 N/A
Miami University marker 1 2001 0 N/A
University of South Dakota 1 1988 0 N/A
Eastern Illinois Universitymarker 1 1985 0 N/A
George Washington Universitymarker 0 N/A 2 2008, 2009
Harvard Universitymarker 0 N/A 2 2006, 2007
Georgia Institute of Technologymarker 0 N/A 1 2005
Columbia University 0 N/A 1 2004
Georgetown Universitymarker 0 N/A 1 2002
University of Wisconsin–Milwaukeemarker 0 N/A 1 2000
Saint Louis Universitymarker 0 N/A 1 1996
Loras Collegemarker 0 N/A 1 1995
Toledo Community College 0 N/A 1 1990
Northwestern Universitymarker 0 N/A 1 1986
Central College 0 N/A 1 1985

Law school

In interscholastic mock trial/trial advocacy at a law school level, teams typically consist of several "attorneys" and several "witnesses" on each side. Every team in a tournament is given the same "problem" or "case" several months in advance, and they prepare to try the case from either side. The cases are carefully written in an attempt to create an equal chance of either side prevailing, since the main objective is not to identify the winner of the case, but rather the team with superior advocacy skills. Occasionally the winners of mock trial tournaments receive special awards such as money or invitations to special events, but the status of winning a tournament is significant in and of itself.


Practicing litigators may use mock trials to assist with trial preparation and settlement negotiations. Unlike scholastic mock trials, these mock trials can take numerous forms depending on the information sought. For example, when faced with complex fact issues in a particular case, attorneys might convene a mini mock trial to try different methods of presenting their evidence, sometimes before a mock jury.

In fiction

  • The American television series The Fugitive, Episode 31: Man in the Chariot, a once-famed attorney and current Law professor named G. Stanley Lazer claims that he could reverse Kimble's criminal conviction if the case went back to trial. To Kimble's chagrin, Lazer decides to prove his theory by conducting a mock trial with his students playing the prosecutor, defense lawyer, and jury in front of a live TV audience.

See also


  1. Mock Trial CRF
  2.,_Youth_and_Citizenship/Mock_Trial_Tournament/Mock_Trial_Tournament.htm NYSBA Mock Trial
  3. Law-related Education: Mock Trial main
  4. FLREA Mock Trial
  5. National High School Mock Trial Championship
  7. Mock Trial Education

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