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Mock Trial sets sights on top prize at Nationals

Published: Friday, April 15, 2011

Updated: Friday, April 15, 2011 11:04

Tufts Mock Trial will travel this weekend to Des Moines, Iowa to compete in the American Mock Trial Association (AMTA) National Championship Tournament.

The team will compete against the nation's top collegiate mock trial teams, including defending national champion New York University, for the AMTA's highest honor at Drake University Law School.

This season will mark the student-run team's second-ever trip to the national tournament, having qualified for the first time last year. 

Of the 670 collegiate mock trial teams that entered the AMTA National Championship series, only 48 passed through two preliminary tournaments to qualify for the championship tournament, according to Tufts Mock Trial Co-President Jonathan Lautin, a senior.

Though Tufts Mock Trial entered three teams in the first tournament of the series, only one advanced to the final tournament, after earning fourth place at the Opening Round championship tournament in March.

In this weekend's competition, the Jumbos will argue and play witnesses for both sides of a product liability case. Two judges, typically local attorneys, graduated law students or former Mock Trial competitors, will judge the four rounds, according to Tufts Mock Trial Co-President Tomas Garcia, a junior. The team will receive points each round based on the performance of its lawyers and witnesses.

Though the judges' scoring is based on a rubric that allocates points across subcategories, it is still highly subjective, Lautin said.

"Sometimes there are teams that are clearly better than the other team in that round, but they still won't win because the judges see it a different way. The scoring is completely subjective," he said.

Garcia agreed. "That's one of the struggles of mock trial, getting to the point where you're so polished and so good that there's no doubt that you're the better team," he said. "That's the ideal standard to achieve."

Freshman Brian Pilchik, a veteran high school mock trial competitor, will be traveling to the national tournament for the first time. As an expert witness for the defense, Pilchik said he will need to be able to answer any question his or the opposing team directs at him according to the source material provided by the AMTA.

Because they cannot predict what the other team might ask, the Tufts competitors brainstormed possible questions and appropriate answers, Pilchik said.

"There's a lot of technical information to memorize, especially for cross-examination when they could ask you about any of it and you're expected to know," he added. 

The AMTA released this season's case, which is based on an actual product liability case, in September, according to Lautin. With the exception of a few minor changes made by the AMTA, the same case has been used throughout all of the tournaments in the invitational and championship seasons.

"We know the case really well. So right now what we're trying to do is come up with new angles and things that we hope the other teams won't expect," Lautin said.

"You never know what the other team is going to do exactly, so at least half the trial is just adapting to what the other team does. It's a combination of memorization and polish and thinking on your feet," he added.

The team also traveled to Brown University for a practice scrimmage last weekend, according to Pilchik.

This weekend's tournament will mark the end of a strong season for the young team, which saw its members place a team in first at two of the four invitational tournaments, and fourth at the Opening Round Championship, despite facing the hardest combined strength of opponents at the tournament, Garcia said.

"Before last year we never even thought about being in the National Championship Tournament," Lautin said. "Just making it here is a huge accomplishment."

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