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Mock Trial in High School: What You Need to Know

November 7, 2023
3 min read


Reviewed by:

David Merson

Former Head of Pre-Law Office, Northeastern University, & Admissions Officer, Brown University

Reviewed: 11/07/23

Aspiring lawyers should consider participating in a mock trial in high school to begin preparing for their careers. To learn more about what mock trials are, read on.

The typical extracurriculars high school students participate in are school sports-teams, debate clubs, yearbook committee, part-time jobs at local fast food restaurants, and volunteer positions at hospitals, food banks, or shelters. 

However, another highly valuable extracurricular students should consider participating in is mock trials. This activity is particularly useful for students interested in political or legal careers. If you’ve never heard of mock trials before or want more information on how to get involved in them, this guide has got you covered!

What Is a Mock Trial in High School?

Let’s begin with the basics; what is mock trial in high school?

High school mock trials are essentially competitions held by organizations in which students compete to create the most compelling case in a mock court. The majority of high schools have mock trial clubs that students can join to begin competing. There are several levels to these competitions: local, state, and national. 

The national level competitions are hosted and organized by the National Mock Trial Championship. In these competitions, teams of students representing the winning school in each state will be given a criminal or civil case to prepare for and present to the court. 

Each team is given a booklet containing all the case information they’ll need to argue for the prosecution or defense of the accused. 

Some colleges and universities, like Furman University, offer mock trial programs for national participants to receive enhanced training and education in advocacy and case preparation. 

Female student speaking into microphone

How Does a Mock Trial Work in High School

There are several steps involved in mock trials:

Step One: Preparation

Cases are available for viewing and distribution several weeks before the first round of mock trials begin. Students must prepare for both sides of the case, as they will not know if they will be acting as the prosecution or the defense during the trial.

Part of this preparation will include delegating tasks to the members of your mock trial team. Each team is composed of between six and nine teammates, of which three will act as attorneys and three will act as witnesses during each round. If there is a seventh member, they will act as a timekeeper. 

Step Two: Coin Toss

On the day of the trial, a coin toss will be used to determine which team will represent the defense and which will represent the prosecution, which is why it’s essential your team crafts comprehensive arguments for both sides!

Step Three: Opening Statements

Both sides will present their opening statements to the court before witnesses are brought to the stand. This statement should outline what they will be arguing, the evidence they will be using, and the witnesses they intend to call on. 

Here, students’ articulation and persuasion will be assessed. 

Step Four: Witness Testimony 

Each attorney will be responsible for the direct examination and cross-examination of a witness. You may only object to questions being asked of the witnesses you examine. There are only a few grounds of objection admissible in mock trial courts which teams must familiarize themselves with during their prep. 

You will also be given the chance to re-examine your witness after the cross-examination is complete. During the testimonies the prosecution will also be expected to introduce evidence to the courtroom that can be objected by the opposing side. The defense may also introduce evidence to the courtroom, but it is not required. 

Step Five: Closing Statements

After the witnesses have been thoroughly examined, each side will give their closing statements to summarize the key evidence presented and offer their final reasons for the judge to rule in their favor.

Step Six: Scores

At the end of the trial the judging panel and presiding judge will determine which team had the stronger argument and score them. The precise scoring techniques will depend on the organization and level at which you are competing. 

judge writing on paper

The Benefits of Mock Trial for High Schoolers

Now that you understand what a mock trial in high school consists of, you may be wondering if you should participate in one yourself. While these mock trials may seem intimidating, they have various benefits! 

For one, regardless of if you want to join the legal field or not, they will develop key skills that can aid you in any career:

  • Public speaking
  • Critical thinking
  • Analysis
  • Conflict resolution
  • Persuasion
  • Problem-solving
  • Team work
  • Leadership
  • Memorization

For students that are interested in becoming lawyers, specifically criminal lawyers, mock trials can provide you with a realistic understanding of court proceedings to help you confirm your career choice. If you plan on participating in higher level mock trials in college and moot courts in law school, preparing early will help you excel in these trials! 

Lastly, having mock trial experience on your college application can help you stand out as an applicant. It will show you not only have great analytical thinking and communication skills, but that you have a clear drive to join the political or legal field. 

This will not only be useful for your college resume but can be used to explain your dedication to becoming an attorney in your law school personal statement or interview. 

You may also begin building your network by meeting amazing mentors that can help you throughout your legal career! If you’re an extraordinary participant you can also qualify for awards, scholarships, or judging positions, which will look great on your college and law school resume!

female student participating in mock trial

FAQs: Mock Trial in High School

Below we’ve answered the most common questions about competing in a mock trial in high school.

1. What Skills Do You Get From Mock Trial?

The main skills students develop in mock trials are:

  • Public speaking
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Problem-solving 
  • Analytical and critical thinking
  • Persuasion 

On a more technical level, students learn how to create compelling opening and closing arguments, how to interpret and analyze evidence to create a case, and how to accurately and appropriately examine witnesses!

They will also learn about permissible court objections and develop a high degree of technical knowledge on court procedure and etiquette. 

2. Are Mock Trials Worth It?

Yes, mock trials are especially beneficial for students interested in pursuing legal careers as they’ll be expected to participate in moot trials throughout law school. High school mock trials can offer a good foundation to excel in these. 

3. Do Mock Trials Look Good for College?

Yes, considering you develop skills that are transferable to any career and degree, participating in mock trials will look good on any college application. It also takes a high level of dedication and commitment to compete in these trials. Demonstrating these skills will make you a more attractive applicant.

4. How Do I Compete in Mock Trials?

Your high school should offer more information on how to compete in your state’s mock trials. You will first have to join your school’s team and then compete against other schools within your area before making it to the state level and finally the nationals. 

5. Are Mock Trials Difficult?

Yes, mock trials are difficult largely because they’re unpredictable! Students must be able to think quickly to be able to make sound rebuttals and call objections. Additionally, because students can act as either the prosecution or defense, they must be able to present strong arguments for both sides. 

Students must also memorize certain legal terms and proceedings, so they do not make any errors in the courtroom. These errors can cost them valuable points!

Final Thoughts

As we’ve established, mock trials in high school can serve as excellent didactic tools for aspiring lawyers to gain confidence and insight into courtroom proceedings and how to argue a case. On a more general note, these mock trials can also just help you become a more confident speaker, which is a skill everyone can benefit from! 

Accordingly, you should consider adding this extracurricular to your college resume to not only wow the admissions committee but to help you excel throughout your post-secondary journey! 

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