More than 2,000 Maryland high school students competed in the Maryland State Bar Association’s (MSBA) 2009 Statewide High School Mock Trial Competition. Allegany High School, from Allegany County, was declared the statewide champion team but every young person on the 120 teams that entered the competition last fall walked away as a winner. These students, their teachers and their parents learned about the law and expanded their understanding of our legal system by joining in this annual MSBA public education program.
Over the last 26 years, 42,000+ Maryland high school students have participated in this entertaining and educational program, which attracts thousands of Maryland high school students, teachers, attorneys and judges every year. The students engage in lively, theatrical mock trial re-enactments and work closely with volunteer lawyers and judges as they learn firsthand about the law. Courtroom drama unfolds in these mock trials as teams of students, coached by teachers and volunteer lawyers, enact a mock trial while a volunteer judge deliberates.
The mock trials always involve contemporary high school concerns so the issues are germane to the students’ lives. This year’s case involves defamation on the Internet, addressing the growing concern of kids defaming other kids online. The hypothetical situation involves a high school student who has created an online website, “Tiger Tracks,” to evaluate the school’s teachers, and he does this on his parents’ personal web-hosting program.
Subsequently, this student gets a bad grade from a teacher, so he anonymously posts charges and accusations on the website maligning the teacher. Ultimately, the teacher confronts the student, whose parents tell the teacher to leave the young man alone. As a result of the postings, the teacher is denied tenure and is not re-hired, and she sues the parents for defamation. This is the case the mock trial participants tackled this year, and over the course of the competition, there were 600+ enactments.
Since its inception in 1983, MSBA’s Citizenship Law-Related Education Program (CLREP) has organized and presented the mock trial contest, which has grown from five teams in 1983 to today’s 120 teams. The students from high schools across the state actually sign up for the competition in October and immediately begin preparing for the contest with their team’s volunteer lawyer and teacher coaches. CLREP works with students, teachers, volunteer attorney coaches and judges as the administrator of the Mock Trial Competition, mapping out the competition, forming the teams, selecting and analyzing the case and working with the teams and coaches to devise their trial strategy.
The mock trial program begins with local matches, advances to regional contests and ultimately concludes in the final state championship. Each mock trial is held in a real courtroom with a real volunteer judge presiding to offer the students an upfront and realistic view of the key role that attorneys and judges play in our justice system. Most teams log roughly 100+ hours in preparation and competition time, although the time commitment does go as high as 150 hours for some teams.
“The Mock Trial Competition is a great way for students to increase their civic literacy,” states Ellery “Rick” Miller, CLREP Executive Director. “It gives them an understanding of the courts and trial procedures and prepares them if they ever serve on a jury. Every year we select a topical case that we think will be both educational and interesting. This year’s case is no exception, as we focus on Internet usage and defamation. Young people don’t really understand the legal implications of posting information online and we are giving them some valuable information as they compete.”
Through MSBA’s interactive and educational contest, high school students learn firsthand about the rule of law, trial procedures and the role of attorneys and judges. They gain insight into the workings of our justice system and better understand its function in society. They see the law in action and develop a more constructive attitude about our country’s legal system. Ultimately, they emerge from this competition as well-informed citizens who are more knowledgeable about our legal system.
“The wonderful thing about MSBA’S High School Mock Trial Competition is its uniqueness…few programs afford students an opportunity to develop important life skills – public speaking, thinking on their feet, teamwork – in a real-world environment alongside of experts who mentor them along the way,” declares CLREP Assistant Director Shelley Wojciechowski. “I am continually amazed at the poise, intellect and veracity of 15, 16 and 17-year-olds. You can see who our future lawyers, doctors and teachers will be, and it feels good to be a part of it.”
MSBA’s mock trial public education program enables young people to learn about the law, our court system and the legal system in a fun and entertaining way. The volunteer attorneys and judges enjoy the competition, too, and find it quite rewarding. They interact with students in a creative and educational environment and get caught up in the excitement along with the students.
The Mock Trial Competition is a public education program that offers high school students a valuable insight into the workings of our justice system so they may better understand its function in society. They see the law in action and, hopefully, develop a more constructive attitude about our country’s legal system.