The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Mock trial team driven to victory

Title up for grabs in Florida

“We went from the lowest lows on Friday morning, to the highest highs on Saturday night,” said Jay Bishop, an SMU junior, referring to the Mock Trial Regionals Competition in Utah last month.

Apparently, this is how SMU’s Mock Trial Team gets things done. Starting with absolutely nothing, and months behind other colleges, a team was hastily pulled together by Bishop. Now, against great odds, they have advanced to the nationals. The same way they fought through their first round of defeat in the regional tournament, and came out with four major awards, this mock trial team proved its strength.

A mock trial team is “designed to provide a forum for undergraduate SMU students interested in learning about our legal system. Students are placed on individual teams and work during the year to prepare both the defense and the plaintiff/prosecution arguments, questions and witnesses based on the fact pattern we receive from the American Mock Trial Association,” says Bishop.

The thing is, until Bishop enrolled, the school did not have such a team. With an exceptional law program, it is perplexing that SMU could have overlooked the opportunities involved in instituting this type of program.

From Harvard to Weber State in Utah, most universities take advantage of having a mock trial team. They are critical in preparing students for a future in law, public speaking and debate.

Bishop, the founder of SMU’s team, had worked as a paralegal in a law firm for five and a half years before coming to SMU at the age of 26. He specialized in family law; a field he felt was influential in his own life.

“At the time, I felt it was more important than something I could have learned in school,” said Bishop.

Despite a satisfying experience, he realized there was only so far he could go without a college degree. In only three terms at DCC, he earned 58 hours of credit and a 4.0 GPA. It was from here that he made it to SMU.

Eager to immerse himself in all that the pre-law program had to offer, Bishop contacted Judy McMaster, a pre-law advisor at SMU and coordinator of pre-law services, to see how he could get involved in a mock trial team.

According to the American Mock Trial Association, “Each year the American Mock Trial Association selects a legal case for college teams to analyze. The case contains a legal issue, affidavits containing the testimony of different characters, exhibits, case law and rules governing the presentation of the case. The case always takes place in the fictional state of Midlands, USA.”

Shocked to find that this type of program did not exist at SMU, Bishop recalls leaving her office and thinking, “Well, I am going to start one!” McMaster, incidentally, is the current pre-law advisor for SMU’s team.

That was the end of September, and Bishop quickly realized that other schools had long since received their case packets, were registered for competitions, and had already began preparing for what was ahead. Despite this, he was willing to go the distance. With only two weeks until the deadline for registration, Bishop remembers the rush to get it together.

“I had to build awareness and find dedicated people in those two weeks” said Bishop.

Lauren Leahey, another junior at SMU, was just the person to assist Bishop. With her help, the two put together a team, and got registered.

“None of us knew each other. We didn’t even know each others skills, or lack of skills. We didn’t even have an attorney coach!” said Leahey.

But this hell or high water attitude paid off. Bishop and Leahey went into power drive, learning everything they could from AMTA. They had one month, before winter break, to go over the case, learn the rules, divvy up parts and make a winning team. The problem was, in the rush to get it together, they watched as other schools went to invitationals, in preparation for the upcoming regionals.

“They came and went, and we were unable and unprepared to go to a single one of them,” said Bishop.

“It wasn’t looking very good for a while. It was scary. We came back from winter break with not a thing written down. We were months behind other schools,” recalls Bishop.

By meetings five days a week, for no less than four hours a day, this team, which had now grown to 18, was dedicated to seeing it through. With the assistance of Kelly Reddel, adjunct professor as their coach and Jason Franklin, a recent SMU Law graduate, as their assistant coach, the team began to look like the hot shot competitors they anticipated in regionals. With no credit awarded to membership, and no real expectations for what was ahead, all members weathered the uncertainty, and stringent meeting times.

They needed to understand the workings of the case, rehearse their roles and be prepared to act as the plaintiff or the defense with the same ease that more experienced teams had. As early as a week before regionals, they were still on paper. The morning of the first competition in Utah they were still on note cards. Nervous and inexperienced they “bombed” their first round, according to Bishop.

“Two days, two rounds a day. It’s about as tense as it gets. It tests your trust in one another, your ability to bounce back, your ability to think on your feet when you’re thrown curve balls and how to deal with teams that don’t play fairly,” said Bishop.

These were all things that other teams had years of experience with, and SMU had only just begun to understand.

After a dismal first round, the next three led SMU to victory in Utah. They qualified for nationals in March, and came out as the “Best Newcomer” in the nation. They also received four individual awards including “Best Attorneys” for both Bishop and Leahey, and “Best Witness” for Leahey, and Cammy Rose, another SMU Junior. No other team won more awards in their division.

Jay Bishop had a vision, and with the dedication of Lauren Leahey and support of people such as Judy McMaster they were able to surpass even their own expectations. They created a team that had the same drive and determination as they did, and managed to pull it all together – if even at the last hour.

The nationals will take place in St. Petersburg, Fla. beginning March 11th. More information about college Mock Trial teams can be found at www.collegemocktrial.org (which is AMTA’s official site), and www.perjuries.com, which is “like the face book of Mock Trial” according to Leahey.

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